I’d like to interrupt my regular reporting with some Fortune-related breaking news.
I’m incredibly proud to announce that four of my colleagues have won SABEW (Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing) nods this year, an extraordinary achievement under any circumstances, but given what 2020 served up, even more monumental. All four are women; one, as I like to imagine, spent the last year working with a baby on her hip.
Well done, all.
While I am very proud of them individually, I see a common thread in their work that speaks to a broader impact.
Claire Zillman won for her feature story, The first lady of Wall Street, an insightful look at a long overdue first: How Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser became the first woman to lead one of the world’s biggest banks. One tip, she’s very real:
“Fraser’s willingness to talk about the human side of the job—whether lapses in self-assuredness, the demands of parenthood, the past failings of bank culture—sets her apart not just from her Wall Street peers, but from other women who have achieved “firsts” in their industries, some of whom fear that by being open about such things they’ll be pigeonholed by the label, female CEO. Fraser sees it as an advantage: ‘I can be more vulnerable in certain areas; talking more about the human dimensions of this than some of my male colleagues are comfortable [with],’ she told [Zillman] in May. “I don’t feel that’s in any way soft or weaker; I actually think it’s much more powerful.”
Maria Aspan won for her feature, The risky business of implants, which began with a powerful question: Why are breast implants still putting millions of women at risk?
Yet as doctors, patients, lawyers, and public health experts tell Fortune, breast implants have remained on the market despite decades of inadequate testing and study, recurrent safety concerns, and poor regulatory oversight. Those problems plague many medical devices, which range from machines used outside the body to artificial parts implanted within it. But breast implants are unique in their affiliation with female sexuality and physical appearance, their intersecting roles as elective beauty products and clinical tools that can help cancer survivors feel more like themselves—and the degree to which patients’ mounting concerns about them have been dismissed for decades. Now, that accumulated failure of oversight has created sweeping, sometimes tragic crises for potentially millions of women.
Beth Kowitt earned an honorable mention for her poignant look at the fertility industry in Fertility Inc., which begins with one of the most memorable openers I’ve read in a business magazine. But the real point is that baby-making has become a growth industry:
Investors have taken notice, funneling $646 million into the sector in 2018, according to PitchBook. “Real dollars are starting to flow into this category,” says Stephanie Palmeri, a partner with VC firm Uncork Capital. The past few years have seen the launch of businesses encompassing everything from simple ovulation trackers to research plays attempting to discover links between genetics and reproductive disorders. Private equity firms, drawn to the industry’s high margins and increased success rates, are rolling up fragmented mom-and-pop fertility clinics. In October, fertility benefits provider Progyny became one of the first startups in the industry to go public; its stock is up more than 150% since the IPO… “Some people really care about having genetic children, which both makes it a huge source of suffering—and a huge market,” says Hank Greely, a professor focusing on bioethics at Stanford Law School.
And Karen Yuan, who until recently was the editorial leader of Fortune’s many newsletters, won for her prescient feature, How Chinese American restaurants are ensuring their future. The headwinds were strong pre-COVID:
Even before the shutdowns, Chinese restaurants saw a significant drop in customers. Certainly racism played a part: Some restaurants faced discrimination from consumers wrongfully wary of Chinese food spreading the coronavirus in the U.S. Others have been the subject of racist graffiti and broken windows… The thing is, Chinese restaurants in America have been vanishing for a while. Yelp data showed in 2019 that the number of Chinese restaurants has been consistently declining in the country’s top 20 cities. From 2014 to 2018, they saw a 7% drop nationwide. Part of it is a generational shift—the kids doing homework behind the counter have grown up and don’t want to, or need to, take over the family business. “The goal is to not come back to the restaurant, because the restaurant is [a] crutch to get [immigrants] through society,” says Wilson Tang, owner of Nom Wah Tea Parlor in New York City’s Chinatown.
Yes, Fortune is an amazing place to work, and sometimes I think we don’t get enough credit for how truly gender-diverse we are and are still becoming. When traditional media award-granting organizations acknowledge the kind of journalism that illuminates the health, well-being, and barriers facing women, families, and underrepresented communities, it feels like a bigger story – and very good news.
As the incoming tide hopefully continues to lift all the boats, it’s encouraging to see an array of powerful women journalists at the tiller.
Here is Fortune’s World’s 50 Greatest Leaders List It is an inspiring mix of bold-faced names in business and beyond, with plenty of surprises in the mix. You might expect to see New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern or Paypal CEO Dan Schulman, you might not expect to meet C. Nicole Mason, who presciently predicted the economic devastation facing women and mothers as the incoming president and chief executive of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Come for the folks who saved the NBA, and stay for Willie Ray Fairley. (Spoiler alert: Dolly made the list.)
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association does not understand the assignment, at all. The small, insular organization that hands out the Golden Globe awards has been in a tumult since an investigation published by the Los Angeles Times in February detailed alleged corruption, ethical and financial lapses, and conflicts of interest, as well as a terrible record on diversity. (Not a single voting member of the HFPA is Black.) While the organization has vowed change, industry titans remain unconvinced by what they’ve seen. First Netflix, Amazon, and WarnerMedia announced a boycott of the Golden Globes show. Now, NBC has announced they won’t air the show at all.
Phylicia Rashad is heading back to school as the new dean of Howard University’s College of Fine Arts. Rashad, a theater major, graduated magna cum laude from Howard with a bachelor’s in fine arts in 1970. Her return is reviving the college itself, which was absorbed by the College of Arts and Sciences as a cost-cutting measure in 1998. Rashad clearly has a plan. “I would like to see a program contemporized without losing knowledge. I would like to see faculty empowered to create and produce and design robust systems and a robust program. I would like to see students engaged in the disciplines of fine arts as they participate and engage in the university at large. I would like to see us graduate artists who are scholars as well,” she said. Rashad would probably be a good candidate for voting member of the HFPA, if anyone is near a suggestion box.
Cities are segregated by design. I’m flagging this great explainer for a couple of reasons. First, it’s really helpful, but second, we can’t have a meaningful conversation about “building back better” without understanding the conditions many workers have faced for generations. Housing segregation and discrimination have shaped the lives of people in the country for decades – since 1934, to be exact – when maps drawn up by the government-sponsored Home Owner’s Loan Corporation tried to identify neighborhoods most likely to default on a brand new product called a 30-year mortgage. This invention of the New Deal also invented “red-lining” or the identification of neighborhoods with “foreigners,” “low-class whites,” and “Negroes.” This excellent seven-minute video, narrated by NPR’s Gene Demby, draws a straight line between the Depression-era discriminatory lending to the creation of ghettos, environmental racism, poor schools, over-aggressive policing, and the unique phenomenon of Martin Luther King Boulevards.
The racist history of prom. We’ve already explored the racist history of swimming, square dancing, even tomatoes. But college proms, once short for "promenade," were highly segregated affairs, originally designed to be a lower-rent version of the debutante balls for the elites and an opportunity to introduce middle class young women to society (and potentially eligible husbands.) By the 1920s, the concept was extended to high school, and with it came the rigid social norms of gender-based behavior and white supremacy. After Brown v. Board of Education, proms became a battle ground for integration. Spoiler alert: It didn’t always work. Plenty of single race proms still exist, and Wilcox County High School in Abbeville, Georgia, held its first-ever integrated prom in 2013.
This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.
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