A his­tory of women in Forbes, from mansplain­ing sex­ism in the work­place to lean­ing in.

Forbes - - CON­TENTS -

The first is­sue of Forbes boasted a “unique depart­ment” on its cover. “The Woman in Busi­ness” would be a reg­u­lar sec­tion edited by Mar­ian R. Glenn, who had come from the Amer­i­can Bankers’ As­so­ci­a­tion and was one of two women with a by­line in that vol­ume.

The magazine was stun­ningly pro­gres­sive in those early years, em­ploy­ing women jour­nal­ists to pro­file fe­male busi­ness lead­ers be­fore any of them even had the right to vote. Many of the is­sues ad­dressed in those pages still feel rel­e­vant, es­pe­cially sex­ism in the of­fice. A 1918 is­sue was par­tic­u­larly pre­scient, with a book re­view of a how-to called The Ambitious Woman in Busi­ness. The writer wink­ingly noted that “many men would do well to read” it.

A year later, the magazine fea­tured an in­ter­view with Vir­ginia Pot­ter, co­founder of the 15,000-mem­ber Na­tional League of Women Work­ers. “The old prej­u­dices are be­ing rapidly side-tracked,” she said of women en­ter­ing the work­force in 1919. “Women will go on and on mak­ing not only a name for them­selves in the busi­ness they have un­der­taken but adding to the im­prove­ment of the coun­try of their birth or of their adop­tion.” Of course, not ev­ery edi­tion was strewn with yel­low roses and suf­fragette sashes. (“Do Women Keep Their Word?” asked an ac­cusatory head­line in 1917.)

By 1943, women fi­nally ap­peared on the cover for the first time—in a story on real-life Rosie the Rivet­ers in denim over­alls and hard hats, ad­dress­ing the con­cerns of “post-war fem­i­nine break­downs.” And as the years pro­gressed, while women were oc­ca­sion­ally the fo­cus of fea­tures—women’s lib as an ar­biter of fash- ion in 1971, for in­stance—it wasn’t un­til Oc­to­ber 1990 that a solo fe­male en­tre­pre­neur graced the cover of Forbes: Madonna, with rhine­stone dol­lar signs glint­ing off her hot-pink cos­tume. “Amer­ica’s Smartest Busi­ness Woman?” asked the head­line. (Ap­par­ently the magazine didn’t think the field was that ex­pan­sive—just three years prior, a cover line her­alded Forbes’ rank­ing of “the 797 most pow­er­ful men and 3 most pow­er­ful women in cor­po­rate Amer­ica.”)

Gen­der bal­ance in Forbes’ pages soon im­proved in tan­dem with the rise of women in the board­room. The World’s 100 Most Pow­er­ful Women list launched in 2004, with then-na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor Con­doleezza Rice at No. 1. This past decade has seen busi­ness lead­ers and en­trepreneurs as var­ied as Gen­eral Mo­tors’ Mary Barra, the Hon­est Com­pany’s Jessica Alba and en­ter­tain­ment mogul Oprah Win­frey on the cover. In 2015, Forbes started track­ing the for­tunes of Amer­ica’s Rich­est Self-made Women, and ev­ery year the magazine’s re­porters find a few more ul­tra-wealthy women who have man­aged to strike it rich in worlds that would no doubt please Mar­ian Glenn.

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