Hollywood Reporter’s Rank Decision Sends the Wrong Message

November 12, 2015, 7:41 PM UTC
attends The Daily Front Row's Third Annual Fashion Media Awards at the Park Hyatt New York on September 10, 2015 in New York City.
attends The Daily Front Row's Third Annual Fashion Media Awards at the Park Hyatt New York on September 10, 2015 in New York City.
Photograph by John Parra — Getty Images

On Wednesday, The Hollywood Reporter published a letter from president and chief creative officer Janice Min announcing that after 23 years, the publication will no longer run its annual ‘Women in Entertainment Power 100‘ list as a ranking. What’s more, Min says that THR sister publication, Billboard, will do the same with its annual list of the 50 most powerful female executives in the music industry.

In her letter, Min explained that the rankings had come to feel like “a beauty pageant of brains where only one woman gets crowned.” She also calls out the male domination of the entertainment business and encourages women in power “to take a leadership role in addressing the gender issues that we both unconsciously and willfully ignore.”

Min says the move away from rankings is a rallying cry for women to work together and “to hunt as a pack.”

There’s much to cheer in her statement, so it created an odd cognitive dissonance to read it, applaud many of her points, but find myself on the opposite side of her conclusion that rankings are a force for oppression and must go.

To be clear, I’m not exactly an impartial observer. I am part of the team that works on Fortune’s annual Most Powerful Women in Business; a list that is, yes, ranked. More on that in a moment.

First, let me explain my concern about skirting away from rankings where women are concerned. There are dozens of co-ed rankings out there, which don’t seem to be raising red flags. Min doesn’t say anything about eliminating the hierarchy of Billboard’s Power 100 (which included 15 women last year)—indeed, she uses her note to announce the creation of a new THR ranked list of entertainment’s most powerful people. So, if these lists are acceptable, what message do we send by flattening the women’s lists?

One read: Women can’t handle the pressure and competition. In a way, it’s similar to the “participation” trophies that rankle some parents. Would we remove winners and losers from women’s sports? I don’t think so. And women like Ronda Rousey, Serena Williams, and Carli Lloyd don’t seem to be crumbling under the pressure.

The same way that many women shy away from embracing terms like “ambitious,” some feel hesitant to seem or be labeled “competitive.” Yet, for better or worse, we live and work in a world where competitiveness is rewarded. In fact, one recent study found that a supposed lack of competitive drive among women is one factor contributing to the gender wage gap. Unless we can change the way business operates, we do women no favors by shielding them from the competitive aspect of a ranked list.

Fortune‘s Pattie Sellers, one of the original creators of the Most Powerful Women list back in 1998, has a unique perspective on the value of rankings. Indeed, she says she pushed for a hierarchical list, telling the other Fortune staffers at the time: “If we don’t rank them, men won’t care about this list. Men are into rank and status and size.” Another reason to rank, says Sellers: “Chairmen and CEOs and board directors—men and women in charge of companies around the world—rely on Fortune’s annual MPW list as a guide to recruit and develop female talent.”

Given that we all must compete for the plum jobs Sellers mentions, I say that if something—even something like a magazine list—encourages women to play hard and compete vigorously to get to the top, great. Min says that “women fight for position on these lists in ways that don’t always make them, or us, comfortable.” I’m sure she’s right. But maybe rather than than change the rules, we should all get comfortable with—and maybe even cheer on—that competition.

Fortune has reached out to The Hollywood Reporter for comment and will update this story if the magazine responds.

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