Forbes, Bias and How to Change the Pattern

Image by Ak N Cakiner

Image by Ak N Cakiner


Everybody has implicit bias. Let me repeat this: every single person has implicit bias. Our biases might be and most likely are different, but we all have them. The most recent case in point is the latest list published by Forbes of America’s 100 Most Innovative Leaders.

To spare you looking through the list that actually didn’t appear that impressive to me, the realization of bias punched me in the face. Out of 100 of America’s Most Innovative Leaders there was only 1 woman. Pause to let that sink in.


If you are baffled by how Forbes was able to come up with the list that only included one woman, you’d have to look at their selection criteria, which is mentioned below:

“Our sample of leaders includes the founders or CEOs of Most Innovative Companies which are: (a) U.S. firms with greater than $10 billion market value, (b) the 50 largest private U.S. firms to go public over the past five years and (c) other U.S. firms within the top 100 companies on our most recent Forbes Most Innovative Growth Companies list...They are the leader’s (1) media reputation for innovation, (2) social connections/social capital related to innovation, (3) track record of market value creation at the company they lead, and (4) investor expectations of future growth and innovation at their firm.”

I am going to tell you what this is called: Selection Bias.

Image by Kelly Sikkema

Image by Kelly Sikkema

Selection bias is the bias “introduced by the selection of individuals, groups or data for analysis in such a way that proper randomization is not achieved...Bias is a type of error that systematically skews results in a certain direction. Selection bias is a kind of error that occurs when the researcher decides who is going to be studied.”

Forbes published the list and social media went into a frenzy pointing out how there was only 1 female present on the list (congrats to Barbara Rentler who came in #75 on the list).

Shortly after the social backlash, the responsible publisher, Forbes, came out with a piece titled “"Opportunity Missed: Reflecting On The Lack Of Women On Our Most Innovative Leaders List” in an effort to defend the previous list. How disappointing.

The reason it’s disappointing is because the reply to the original story only highlighted the reasons why women were missed, further explaining that women didn’t meet the criteria set by the committee who hand-picked the list. But the greater question that should have been addressed - implicit bias of the committee in the first place. The article on “Opportunity Missed” is a prime example of what happens when you point out the injustice done as a result of the implicit bias. People who exhibit such bias go into defensive mode, precisely what the follow-up article has done. “Opportunity Missed” article basically justified the list that was generated in the first place, and pointed out how Forbes published a list of Richest Self-Made Women in a meek attempt to prime readers to go look that direction quick, divert your attention, praise us for what we have also done. But publishing a list of richest self-made women doesn’t undo the wrong. Lists need to stop being exclusively about one group or another. It’s time we stop generating lists of 100 Women in this and 50 Women in that; such practice in itself creates a divide. We need to start creating lists that are all-inclusive.

Inclusion is about making sure that when we think of leaders we think of men and women alike; when we discuss innovators we acknowledge men and women in that space; when we talk about technology geniuses we don’t forget about females.

How impressive would it have been for Forbes to acknowledge that they missed the mark and redact the list all together, educate about the severe consequences of unchecked biases and apologize for not being inclusive. Nobody needs excuses, it’s just empty words. Actions speak a lot louder!


How do you change the pattern of implicit bias? 

Step 1: Knowledge!

You need to be aware of your bias, awareness is the first and most important step, without it all other efforts are futile. If you want to know what your biases are and how strong they are, we highly recommend for you to take the Implicit Bias Test.

Step 2: Behavior change!

Once you are aware of your biases, you can focus on how to change your behavior. That involves a lot of self-reflection, so you can analyze behaviors you exhibit, how they can be affected by your biases and what you can do differently.

If you are trying to figure out what other lists are better to follow, we prefer to look at BPOY: Business Person of the Year, published by Fortune, to see who are the leaders and what they do. Not only is it more inclusive, it’s also more representative in regards to Innovation Leaders and it evaluates leaders on an annual basis, so it’s ever-evolving, just like innovation and progress.

Image: Fortune

Image: Fortune