Vanity Fair's "New Establishment:" Not New, Not Very Female

7 years ago

In its October 2010 issue, Vanity Fair did its 100 "new establishment" people - some of the 100 spots are occupied by teams, others by individuals or duos. The formal name of the list is "the 100 most influential people of the information age." Guess how many women are in the new establishment? A total of 14 women, and of those, six are paired with men, while only eight are recognized on their own, individually. The menz? A few men must share the spotlight in team settings, but those team props simply add to the total number of included men further dwarfing the total number of women.

Oh - stop being such a whiner everyone wants to say these days, right? After all, just two days ago on BNET, Mark Henricks wrote a post called, Why It’s Time to Stop Giving Women Entrepreneurs Special Help. His theory:

The Center for Women’s Business Research said in its 2008-2009 report on women-owned business that 40 percent of all businesses are 50 percent or more owned by women. The center also said in the same report that the number of women-owned businesses was expanding at twice the rate of businesses in general, and has been doing so for two decades.

These figures may well understate the number of women-owned businesses today. In 2008, for instance, an official in the Small Business Administration’s office of women-owned business told me, an accurate updated count would probably show that 44 percent of all businesses were woman-owned.

So if 44 percent of all businesses were woman-owned in 2008, and women-owned businesses were multiplying twice as fast as other businesses, shouldn’t we soon be in the position of having roughly the same number of women-owned businesses as there are women in the population?

Yeah, well, let's go back to looking at who is the top woman on the list - and how top is she:

LOS ANGELES - SEP 12: Lady Gaga arrives at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards at Nokia LA Live on September 12, 2010 in Los Angeles, CA. Photo via Newscom

The first spot out of 100 that recognizes a woman: #23. And lucky #23 goes to someone I'm sure you are all guessing would have to be at the top of a list of the 100 most influential people of the information age: Lady Gaga (yes, I'm being sarcastic - or maybe just showing how not new establishment I must be for disagreeing with this selection).


I know. I know. I know. It is just a list - by now, someone should have started a blog about how lame lists are in general. But even so, how are women continuing to not make a dent in the brains of the people who are doing the evaluations? How does get double-digit millions in venture capital, as a, you know, information trafficker, but Vanity Fair, which includes all the usual suspects upfront, doesn't get it?

Lest you think that I'm too obsessed with these kinds of exclusions, read what Cindy Gallop of If We Ran The World has to say in a post about the need to change venture funding (which is inextricably connected to the entrepreneurship trajectory) for women:

I was just looking today at Vanity Fair’s new establishment list The top 100 of what they call the new establishment. The top three slots occupied by Mark Zuckerberg of facebook at number 1; Steve Jobs of Apple at number 2 and Sergey Brin & Larry Page of Google at number 3. The first woman appears on that list at number 23 (Lady Gaga). So the reason I say that its critically important to be taken seriously financially is because it’s not until women raise rounds of funding at the level that men are raising in men founded ventures; until women sell their businesses for huge amounts of money; until women get funded for very, very substantial amounts; until women rank more amongst the billionaires of this world & the tech billionaires of this world that most people will actually believe that a woman can be successful in the technology sector as an entrepreneur & startup founder. So women have to absolutely have to crack this financially – that’s very important. [emphasis added]

You can also watch and listen to her in this video of the interview.

So, no, it is not all in our heads. For example, Northwest Entrepreneur Network has a two-part blog post about women in tech startups that highlights ways to change the ratio, not coincidentally a concept being used by Rachel Sklar specifically to address women in startups via its own Tumblr page.

What else should we know when we're thinking about how to recognize entrepreneurial success, especially outside the VC-new establishment-style framework?'s own Morra Aarons-Mele, in her post, Entrepreneurs: Not Who You Think They Are, gives us some big clues:

The obsession with venture capital funded entrepreneurship, the big exit, the genius nerd working 24-7 on code is misplaced, and it's really holding women back. About 41% of U.S. private companies are female-owned, but only 3 to 5% of them get venture funding, according to the Center for Women's Business Research. But most successful businesses are not VC-funded, and they are not overnight sensations.


[Academic and entrepreneur Vivek] Wadhwa says too many decisions are guided by the stereotype that the ideal entrepreneur to invest in is Mark Zuckerberg. The people who get encouragement are those young brash white males. The vast majority of founders of companies that have made America what it is are not Zuckerberg. And, says Wadhwa, you end up leaving out half the population if you fund based on stereotypes.


It all comes down to how you define a successful entrepreneur, in the culture, in the media, and among ourselves. Very few are multi-million dollar venture funded efforts, but they can grow to be multi-million dollar businesses. Or not, and that's fine too.

Jessica Wakeman at The Frisky uses humor through reality to address, with 18 specific red flags identified, why it is that a company might be, in her words, a "sausagefest." And Jessica links to a great post by Allyson Kapin, of Women Who Tech fame, in which she makes rockin' lemonade out of Michael Arrington's lemons in this "women - leave me alone!" TechCrunch post by saying, "Instead of the playing the blame game, lets develop an action plan together to get more women launching startups and involved in tech." And then she goes and does that by listing several concrete steps that can be taken to, again, help change the ratio.

In case anyone needs a reminder as to why it's important to notice when lists like the VF New Establishment exclude women, consider what Cindy Gallop observes:

For the vcs the future is about women & there are tremendous financial returns to be gained in that. Diversity is what drives real innovation. If you want real ground breaking, transformative business ventures with the ability to deliver ground breaking, transformative financial returns then you want to really mix it up & you absolutely want to welcome & fund the female entrepreneurs to do that.

Sigh. Well, in addition to the stats given by Mark Henricks on BNET about women in business in general, there is mention at Fast Company's FC Member Blog as to why, although women may still be nearly invisible on the Vanity Fair list, there may be hope. From The 8 Percenters: Women Raising More Venture Cash Now Than During the Bubble:

That elite circle is set to expand if recent milestones are any indicator. The number of women receiving their PhDs in the U.S. now outnumber the men. There are more females entering as MIT freshmen than men and there are more women filed as "single head of households" than men. These indicators add up to what the Kauffman Foundation's Lesa Mitchell calls a "tipping point" for women launching tech companies.

What's been your experience with trying to start a business - or getting on lists?

UPDATE: Joanne Bamberger aka Punditmom does a nice post on the White House's Women Entrepreneurship Conference yesterday.  Lots of good stuff in the post.

More on this topic:

For those who followed the "Women! Stop Blaming Me!" Michael Arrington kerfuffle, here's a video of the resulting "ladypanel" at TechCrunch Disrupt and one of many posts about how it went down for those watching it unfold live.

Ladies Who Launch, a resource site from a group that says its mission is "... to make entrepreneurship accessible to any woman with a project, dream or aspiration to start her own business and be successful."

And since we're talking Vanity Fair, in the vanity vein, Elite Women Around the World is a project started by a friend of mine (who was just inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame) who is a successful business woman and through this project, seeks to assist women in business around the globe through mentorship

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