We all love lists of the world's richest or most powerful people, or companies, if only because it provides us with the chance to rubbish them. Forbes magazine's latest selection of The World's 100 Most Powerful Women is another classic bit of linkbait. In this case, it's notable because of the number of women in positions of power in the technology industries, whether or not this tells us anything useful.
For decades, people have been complaining that there are not enough women in technology, and that not enough have risen to positions of power. This problem is real, and it has not gone away. However, at 15 percent of the total, there are enough of them to make an impact on Forbes' list.
"The 100 Women Who Run The World" include, in Forbes's view:
4 Melinda Gates from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
10 Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook
15 Virginia Rometty, IBM President and CEO
17 Ursula Burns, Xerox Chair and CEO
18 Meg Whitman, Hewlett-Packard CEO
21 Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO
25 Susan Wojcicki, Google senior vice president
48 Safra Catz, Oracle chief financial officer
56 Cher Wang, Co-founder and chairwoman of HTC
58 Padmasree Warrior, Cisco chief technology officer
70 Sue Gardner, Wikimedia Foundation
74 Chua Sock Koong, Singtel Group CEO
84 Mary Meeker, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
89 Weili Dei, Co-founder of Marvell Technology Group
91 Sun Yafang, Chair of Huawei Technologies
There are, inevitably, some amusing juxtapositions. Melinda Gates is considered more powerful than Michelle Obama, who is in seventh place. Virginia Rometty, Ursula Burns and Meg Whitman are all less powerful than Lady Gaga, who is 14th. Susan Wojcicki comes one place higher than Queen Elizabeth II, who is in turn one place higher than Julia Gillard, the prime minister of Australia.
Also inevitably, there is some evidence of American bias. For example, Cher Wang and Sun Yafang are much more powerful in Asia, and probably world-wide, than their low rankings suggest. Sun Yafang has been in her position since 1999, during which time Huawei has become a global powerhouse. Jennifer Li, the former General Motors executive and chief financial officer at Baidu, doesn't even make the list.
But this is a slippery pole. Cathie Lesjak, HP's chief financial officer and former temporary CEO, doesn't make the list either. Nor does the once-famous Carly Fiorina, whose tenure at HP earned her a place on Portfolio's less attractive list of The 20 Worst American CEOs of All Time.
The list, and the tech industry, is still worryingly short of female company founders who have built giant businesses. Male examples include Bill Gates (Microsoft), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google), Larry Ellison (Oracle), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), and even Jerry Yang (Yahoo).
HTC's Cher Wang would qualify, but otherwise, it's hard to think of female examples. Julia Hartz (Eventbrite), Caterina Fake (Flickr, Hunch) and Anne Wojcicki (23andMe) are worthy of admiration, but they're not in the same league.
There are certainly some powerful women around: the Forbes list is headed by Angela Merkel, Hilary Clinton and Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff. But like the female CEOs of tech giants, their days are numbered. It would be nice to see more women with the means to stay powerful for decades. Surely it can be done….