In 1998, when Fortune published its first list of the Most Powerful Women in Business, only two women ran Fortune 500 companies. So we spotlighted other women on the rise, and Carly Fiorina, then group president at tech pioneer Lucent Technologies, earned the top spot. “Women, at last, are achieving profound power in the most important and influential industries,” Fortune’s Pattie Sellers wrote at the time.
We have come a long way since 1998, as this year’s MPW list—our 25th—vividly reminds us. For starters, 46 women currently occupy Fortune 500 corner offices. And that quantum leap in representation has affected our selection process: Women who aren’t CEOs, and aren’t widely expected to become one, were unlikely to crack this year’s roster.
We’ve also merged our U.S. and international lists, since all impactful businesses are now global. Jessica Tan, co-CEO of Chinese insurance and tech giant Ping An, is our top-ranked international executive (at No. 5), and one of 12 leaders on this year’s list who are based outside the U.S. Six women join the MPW ranks for the first time, including Cummins CEO Jennifer Rumsey (No. 45) and Marta Ortega, the new head of Spanish fast-fashion conglomerate Inditex (No. 33, and also featured in our story on Inditex by Vivienne Walt, publishing online later this week).
One year after anchoring our first MPW cover, Fiorina became CEO of HP—and the first woman to run a Fortune 20 company. While women in the workplace have made significant progress since then, it’s still true that fewer than 10% of Fortune 500s are woman-led. And in the startup space that has revolutionized business over the past quarter-century, it’s sad to say, female founders and CEOs are even rarer. That’s why this year we’re introducing our list of the top women in startups (also publishing later this week).
On the cover of this issue is Canva CEO and cofounder Melanie Perkins, whose design software company is now worth $26 billion. Her path hasn’t been easy: Over 100 venture capitalists rejected Canva, and its valuation was recently slashed as private markets took a beating. It all makes Perkins work harder. “Every time we’ve been able to imagine a huge, crazy goal and then turn that into reality—each of those things equip us for the next stage,” she told Emma Hinchliffe for our cover story.
One thing I’ve thought a lot about is whether an MPW list is ultimately helpful or harmful to women in business. Can’t women be recognized for their accomplishments without having their gender referenced? As someone who’s frequently referred to as the “first female editor of Fortune,” I can tell you the experience sometimes feels irksome or even deflating.
That said, we’re too far from attaining gender equality to stop using this list to highlight what women achieve. My hope is that a future Fortune editor will someday be writing in this space about the Most Powerful People list—and women, naturally, will be all over it.
A version of this article appears in the October/November 2022 issue of Fortune with the headline, “Powerful progress.”
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