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raceAhead: Fortune’s Most Powerful Women

It’s a woman-powered day at Fortune: Our 2017 list of the Most Powerful Women in Business hit the web this morning.

There are several things worth noting in the list, which remains as inspiring today as it was when it launched 20 (!!) years ago. “We thought about power as something much greater than simply profile, position, or pay,” Fortune editor Pattie Sellers wrote when she introduced the first ever list in 1998. “We measured power broadly—by revenues and profits controlled, influence inside the company, the importance of the business in the global economy, and its impact on American culture.”

And while that is still true, as Fortune chief Cliff Leaf observes, today women yield more power than ever before. “A telling data point? Just as in 1998, a woman— Margo Georgiadis—sits in the corner suite at Mattel,” he writes in his editor’s letter. “But in this year’s Fortune 500 issue, she was joined by a record 31 other female CEOs.” (Three of those names have since dropped, owing to company changes.)

And while racial diversity remains elusive, particularly in the C-Suite, it’s worth taking a moment to celebrate the arrival of Geisha Williams, the first Latina CEO in the Fortune 500, to the list. In March – almost 50 years to the day that she and her family arrived in the U.S. – the Cuban-born executive was tapped to run PG&E, California’s largest utility. Under her leadership, the $17.7 billion firm has already reached its 2020 goal of generating a third of its electricity from renewable sources.

While Williams’ past reads as a classic immigrant success story, she is responsible for imagining an entirely different – and renewable – future, one with new pricing models and delivery systems that better serves the energy needs of customers and the planet. “The new model needs to reflect the new reality,” Williams told Fortune last June. She’s ready: “I’ve got revolutionary blood in my blood.”

On Point

The 2020 Census is a civil rights issue“There is a concerted assault being waged on the accuracy of the 2020 census,” said Robert Shapiro, who oversaw the 2000 census when he was undersecretary of commerce for economic affairs. An underfunded census means that harder-to-reach populations — such as immigrants, low-income individuals, and “language minorities” — are more likely to be missed and subsequently left out of funding decisions for things like education and business initiatives. There are plenty of ways to get involved to make sure your *entire* local community is counted, from calling your national reps and municipal officials to joining (or starting) a “complete count committee” to help the census bureau operate effectively in your city or county.Lifehacker

Manchester United is seeking advice on an offensive chant
This story is getting quite a bit of play in the U.K. and has professional football club Manchester United scrambling to get advice from “relevant bodies” on what to do. At issue is an offensive chant aimed at one of their own players, Belgian footballer Romelu Lukaku. The chant, created by United fans, was set to the tune of a popular Stone Roses song and makes reference to Lukaku’s penis size. It has been deemed offensive by an anti-discriminatory group. “When I was a kid, I remember fans throwing bananas at their own black players,” one raceAhead reader says. It’s all pretty complicated.

Toronto-based illustrator under attack for depicting Harry Potter’s Hermione as black
Although she handled the trolls like a pro, “It was horrifying to see how racist people could be,” Anoosha Syed said told The Huffington Post. It’s particularly odd that this problem keeps cropping up; black performers have been cast as Hermione on the London stage, and author J.K. Rowling has made it clear that the character’s race was never specified. The drawings are lovely, though.
Huffington Post

A Boston-area meeting on diversity and talent management
Boston area folks may want to bookmark this event from The New Talent Management Network (Boston City Group), which promises a robust discussion on diversity and talent management. The discussion will be led by Tom Croswell, President and CEO of Tufts Health Plan, Lydia Greene, SVP and CHRO of Tufts Health Plan, and Bob Rivers, Chairman of CEO at Eastern Bank.  The event, which takes place on November 2 at the Prudential Center, will be hosted by MFS Investment Management. Registration is free. It sounds pretty good.

The Woke Leader

As Puerto Ricans struggles to recover, it’s worth remembering what they’ve already survived
This past March marked the100th anniversary of the day that a million Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship, a gift that turned out to have an ugly twist: It was part of a ploy by President Woodrow Wilson to find 20,000 more people to fight in the First World War. Thus begins island’s troubling relationship with the U.S. It gets worse: U.S federal agencies control every aspect of governance on the island, and have made life nearly impossible for citizens. All of this is essential background, as the situation in post-Maria Puerto Rico worsens. The Nation’s Nelson Denis goes into detail: “Puerto Rico has been little more than a profit center for the United States: first as a naval coaling station, then as a sugar empire, a cheap labor supply, a tax haven, a captive market, and now as a municipal bond debtor and target for privatization.” A must read.
The Nation

The history of black women doctors in comic books
Darnel Degand has written an excellent essay exploring the long history of discrimination black women have experienced when they’ve pursued careers in medicine, and the media’s role in perpetuating specific stereotypes, or by ignoring them entirely. Even W.E.B. Du Bois tackled the subject in a 1933 article, “Can a Colored Woman be a Physician?” (Yes, was his answer.) “The inability to see black women as doctors extends into the world of comic book superheroes,” he writes, with one notable exception: Dr. Cecilia Reyes, who appeared in Marvel’s X-Men in 1997. Degand is clearly a comic book fan and X-Men readers will geek out at his analysis of her plot line. Others will understand how much of an outlier she was. As her narrative grew, she became bolder, changed her bobbed hair to long locs, and was not there for any discrimination. “To the contrary, she was portrayed as a confident doctor who was in command of her operating room.”

A virtual reality “salon” filled with black women is an exercise in tech-enabled inclusion
The concept is called  Nerospeculative Afrofeminism (NSAF) and it animates a virtual reality world that is populated only with black and brown female characters. Created by design studio Hyphen-Labs, and debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, it is a virtual “neurocosmetology lab” where characters interact with other women of color who are leaders in science, tech, and art. Instead of having their hair done, they interact to have “their brains optimized.” The project is partly a response to the lack of women of color in virtual reality. But it’s also a research project designed to see if exposure to “nuanced stories” about black and brown women will decrease bias.


You can fume at the world if you like. You can also use your words, art & gifts to let us in. Build us a bridge to where you are.
—Lin-Manuel Miranda