Disgusted by Forbes’ Methodology for Determining the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women

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World's fourth most powerful woman (right) and seventh most powerful woman (left). Apparently.

This morning, I read the newly published Forbes list of the 100 most powerful women in the world. As it loads up I wonder to myself, will Merkel be ahead of Hilary Clinton? Where will Catherine Ashton come? I wonder which female CEOs have been judged as the most powerful?

To my horror, Lady Gaga is number 7. Oprah Winfrey is number 3 – ahead of both Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel. Ellen Degenres beats Nancy Pelosi to the last spot in the top ten. The most powerful woman in the world is listed as Michelle Obama, undoubtedly an influential woman, and very able in her own right, but there because she is the wife of a powerful man. Catherine Ashton is not mentioned at all. Lower down the list Madonna, a singer who (I checked) last released an album 3 years ago, is 2 places above Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a Supreme Justice in what could be argued to be the most powerful court in the world (numbers 29 and 31 respectively).  Whilst Lady Gaga, Madonna and Beyonce have the very highest level of influence within the world of fashion and music, I am unsure as to how that possibly entails they are more powerful than Catherine Ashton, who co-ordinates the foreign policy of the world’s largest economic area, or Dilma Rousseff, the President of a G12 country (Brazil).

Perplexed, I turn to  Forbes’ list of the 68 most powerful “people” in the world. Since there are only 4 women I don’t feel it’s entirely unreasonable to refer to this list as the list of the 68 most powerful men in the world. Funnily enough, there are no singers or actors in sight. Indeed, it seems a far more reasonable list; being topped by Hu Jintao, Barack Obama, the King of Saudi Arabia and Vladimir Putin. Men who without a shadow of a doubt wield large amounts of tangible power.

So why the difference in the two lists?  It turns out the lists are compiled using different methodologies.  In considering the men the factors taken into account are the size of populations they hold power over, their financial resources, the extent of their sphere of influence and the active use of their power. When it comes to the women however, they have instead been split into 4 categories; business, politics, media and lifestyle. So, half dedicated to women who influence real things and half dedicated to women who influence media and “lifestyles”.

Why the difference in approach? Well, I guess it can only be because women are still judged to be successful on different gounds than men are. A female singer (Beyonce) can be considered more successful than a female politician (Rousseff) because fundamentally that’s what women should be doing isn’t it? The idea that (for example) Usher or Kanye West could be considered as successful or powerful as a male head of state is of course ludicrous. Sadly, the same attitude still does not apply to women. It is also highly apparent that Forbes still considers women as defined by their husbands but not vice versa. Michelle Obama is, according to them, the world’s most powerful woman, by virtue of being the First Lady, of being someone’s wife. Melinda Gates is number 27, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is number 35, Maria Schriver (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s soon to be ex-wife) is number 53 and the wife of the Emir of Qatar is number 74.  Shockingly Angela Merkel’s husband is not on the men’s list however. Well, I guess that’s because he’s a man; and is evaluated on the basis of his own achievements rather than those of his spouse. Forbes’ list is a depressing indictment of how our society still views and judges the female half of the world’s population. So women if you want to be powerful don’t bother trying to become a head of state or a business CEO! Instead, either try and marry someone powerful, or just make sure you have a good hairstyle, can carry a tune and are willing to wear skimpy clothes. Because clearly that’s still (nearly) all that matters.

EU High Representative champions Women

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There is no doubt that Baroness Catherine Ashton puts the interests of women at the top of her personal agenda and that of the European External Action Service which she heads.

Speaking in the European Parliament building in Strasbourg, Labour peer Cathy Ashton told how when she visits other countries she always tries to ensure that women are included in some way, perhaps by talking to women’s groups. The same strategy is followed by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who has also succeeded in putting women up the agenda of the State Department. Ashton and Clinton are, we understand, given to talking about women and how to improve women’s lives when they meet while carrying out their respective roles.

In setting up the EAAS I know Cathy Ashton has paid particular attention to employing women and has tried to secure a gender balance at the top of the organisation. Unfortunately due to the lack of women in senior positions, this has proved difficult. However, Cathy is ensuring that there are enough women lower down the pecking order for future promotions to redress the structure which will, inevitably, be top heavy with men at the start.    

 It’s good to see a top woman encouraging other women in such a positive way. Congratulations to Cathy and long may she continue this vital work.

Tory EU U-Turn?

Labour Party

I was, to say the least, surprised to read William Hague’s speech to the Royal United Services Institute this week which outlined the EU’s “enormous importance to the United Kingdom and its foreign policy”.  It was also interesting to note that William Hague went out of his way to wish Catherine Ashton well in her role as EU High Representative.  Perhaps he should have a word in the ear of some of his MEPs, who have been anything but supportive.

Hague’s speech demonstrates that, with a General Election approaching, Tory flip-flops on key policy areas know no bounds.  For the past two years Hague himself has been scrambling around Europe making alliances with unsavoury parties from the fringes of far-right politics in order to create the Tories’ new European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Parliament.  In doing so, he seriously undermined the credibility of the Conservative Party in the eyes of key European leaders such as Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, both of whom made known their dismay that the Tory MEPs were being withdrawn from the mainstream centre-right EPP group to which their political parties belonged.

This policy, albeit entirely misguided, has won Cameron and Hague a lot of support from the Tory grassroots, with  ConservativeHome website reporting that 45 of the new Tory candidates for the forthcoming general election listed repatriation of powers from Europe as their top priority.  As regular readers will be aware, we all know how realistic that hope is.

Cameron and Hague are walking a tightrope here.  On the one hand, they have done very well out of EU-bashing with their grass-roots supporters over the past two years.  On the other hand, they have alienated important allies throughout Europe to the detriment of the British national interest. 

William Hague’s speech dripped with hypocrisy and was surely a belated attempt to undo the damage their anti-EU stance has done. 

I doubt that leaders throughout Europe will have such short memories.  And I can only imagine what the new breed of anti-EU Tory candidate makes of this U-turn.