Meet Fortune’s 2021 Most Powerful Women in Business

October 4, 2021, 12:29 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! The race for mayor of Boston heats up, protesters fight for abortion rights at the Women’s March, and Fortune’s 2021 list of the Most Powerful Women in Business is live. Have a great Monday.

– Meet the 2021 MPW. It’s a banner day for Fortune’s MPW team: Our latest ranking of the Most Powerful Women in Business is out. (This is the U.S. edition—keep your eyes peeled for our international list, publishing on Wednesday).

The big news: We have a new No. 1—Karen Lynch, CEO of CVS Health. A host of factors rocketed Lynch into the top spot: she’s the first-ever woman to lead such a massive company (CVS Health is No. 4 on the Fortune 500), she’s guided CVS through its essential role administering COVID-19 tests and vaccines, and, as Fortune‘s Shawn Tully lays out in a new story published this morning, she has a bold new plan for transforming CVS into “a new front door for health care access,” by converting hundreds of locations from retail to providers of primary care.

Lynch isn’t the only shakeup to the top of the ranking. Indeed, five of our top 10 are relatively new CEOs, having stepped into the corner officer during the pandemic—that’s a cohort that includes chief executives Jane Fraser (Citi), Carol Tomé (UPS), Roz Brewer (Walgreens Boots Alliance), Thasunda Brown Duckett (TIAA), and Lynch. To learn more about what it’s been like to take the reins at a moment of such upheaval—but also such opportunity—Fortune‘s Beth Kowitt sat down with Brewer, who was previously the COO of Starbucks (and before that, CEO of Sam’s Club). It’s an enlightening and wide-ranging conversation, which also digs into Brewer’s perspective on the historic aspect of her new job, which makes her just the fourth Black woman ever to lead a Fortune 500 company.

In putting together this year’s MPW list, such record-setting achievements were very much on our mind. One of the pleasures of covering women in business over the years has been seeing our ranking become more diverse, and watching the slow, but relatively steady, uptick of women taking command of some of the most powerful jobs in American business. A case in point: in June, when we published the latest Fortune 500, a record 41 companies had female CEOs. But as we’ve watched the pandemic bog down—or even derail—the careers of so many women, we began to wonder if, or perhaps when, that trend will work its way up to C-suite, and what it might mean for the hard-won progress of the past decades.

In an attempt to answer that question, Beth reached out to economists, academics, storied CEOs, and members of Fortune‘s own MPW community. Her findings are surprising and sobering—but tinged with hope. I strongly encourage you to read them for yourself.

Kristen Bellstrom

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


- Blowing the whistle. We now know who was leaking all those Facebook documents to the Wall Street Journal: it was Frances Haugen, a product manager who left the company in May. She says her aim was to fix the social network, not hurt it. Haugen, 37, appeared on 60 Minutes last night, will testify before Congress on Tuesday, and has sought whistleblower protections from the SEC. Meanwhile, another WSJ report on the company finds that Sheryl Sandberg's sphere of influence seems to be shrinking. In 2014, 43% of Facebook employees reported up to Sandberg; today, that figure is 31%, not including contract workers.

- Soccer story. As more allegations came out about the National Women's Soccer League, the league canceled all games this weekend and commissioner Lisa Baird resigned. Player Alex Morgan helped lead to that outcome; she provided evidence that Baird knew about the sexual coercion allegations against coach Paul Riley much earlier than previously acknowledged. Players are saying they won't stand for abuse from men in charge in the league any longer. In the words of Megan Rapinoe: "Burn it all down." 

- Boston bid. The Boston mayoral race is heating up; candidate Michelle Wu secured the endorsement of Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley. Wu, who was also endorsed by Acting Mayor Kim Janey, is facing off against city councilor Annissa Essaibi George. Boston Globe

- March on. This weekend, thousands gathered in Washington, D.C. and across the country for 2021's version of the Women's March, this time focused on fighting for abortion rights. Protesters sent an "an unmistakable message about our fierce opposition to restricting abortion access and overturning Roe v. Wade before it's too late," organizers said. CBS News

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Washington Post journalist Anne Gearan joins Finsbury Glover Hering as a partner in the Washington office. Former WNBA player Marissa Coleman joins Gaming Society as VP of business development. At Group Black, Marchelle Wright joins as chief people officer and Susan Kilkenny joins as SVP of partnerships. Xaxis named Claire Kjaer-Nielsen VP, global people lead. 


- California in court. California's law requiring gender diversity on public company boards of directors is set to be debated in court later this month. A conservative advocacy group has challenged the law, and a judge last week set a trial date of Oct. 25. California will have to defend the board quota before the judge. Bloomberg

- Checkmate. Female chess players say they already encounter misogyny and discrimination on the professional chess circuit. Now many are upset that the latest sponsor for women's chess events put on by the International Chess Federation is Establishment Labs, a producer of breast implants. The company says its sponsorship "highlights our core commitment to respecting and promoting confident and independent-minded women who are unobjectified and fully capable of making their own decisions." New York Times

- Moments that matter. Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit is coming up in mid-October, and we got a preview last week during a virtual gathering of executives ahead of the conference. During a panel, leaders from Diligent, Electronic Arts, Zoom, and Zoox weighed in on remote work. People are returning to offices for the "moments that matter," says EA chief people officer Mala Singh. Fortune


I used to look up to Elizabeth Holmes New York Times

‘Radical collaboration’: Business leaders look to build on best practices from the pandemic Fortune

Queen spending millions to fund Prince Andrew’s fight against sex abuse allegations Telegraph


"I don’t have a uterus and she is pregnant but we out here."

-Comedian Amy Schumer, who recently had surgery to remove her uterus to treat her endometriosis, captioning a photo with actor Jennifer Lawrence. The pair joined a Women's March protest for abortion rights this weekend. 

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