How Fortune Ranks Business’s Most Powerful Women in the COVID era

Oct 30, 2020 | Uncategorized

The pandemic and its human and economic toll. The fight for racial justice. The climate crisis.

No one needs a reminder of the existential threats the world is contending with in 2020—we’re living them every day. And the impact of these crises is anything but short-term: They will remake our lives over this new decade and beyond.

 

Simply put, 2020 is the year when we said a final goodbye to business as usual.

So as we prepared our 23rd Most Powerful Women list, it became clear that the approach we have taken with this ranking for the past 22 years must change too.

Since its beginning in 1998, this list has relied on four criteria: the size and importance of each woman’s business in the global economy; the health and direction of the business; the arc of her career; and her social and cultural influence. This year, we added a new dimension: We wanted to understand how an executive is wielding her power. In this moment of crisis and uncertainty, is she using her influence to shape her company and the wider world for the better?

That’s why you’ll see as our new No. 1 Accenture CEO Julie Sweet, who is steering the professional services firm—valued at nearly $150 billion—as it helps its clients navigate this new world order. Carol Tomé, the former CFO of Home Depot, lands at No. 5, having taken on the top job at UPS just as the shipping giant is playing an increasingly critical role in the coronavirus economy. Jane Fraser, the incoming CEO of Citi, is making her return to the list at No. 6. She is breaking one of the most formidable glass ceilings by becoming the first female CEO of a major Wall Street bank.

To be clear, business performance still matters as much as it ever has. The retail world is a prime example of an industry in which the disparate impact of the pandemic shook up this year’s list: While the CEOs of some struggling retailers fell off our ranking, it elevated executives like Walmart International CEO Judith McKenna (No. 10) and Home Depot executive vice president Ann-Marie Campbell (No. 15)—both hailing from companies poised to emerge from this period stronger than ever.

But in other industries, the new criteria tipped the scales. Iconic tech executives like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (No. 8) and Google’s Susan Wojcicki (No. 18), CEO of YouTube, both dropped in their rankings. Through the lens of our new metric, their failure to rein in misinformation on their platforms overshadows their companies’ strong financial performance.

We wanted to understand how an executive is wielding her power. In this moment of crisis and uncertainty, is she using her influence to shape her company and the wider world for the better?

In addition to the 16 public company CEOs on our domestic list—whose companies account for more than $1 trillion in market cap—newcomers made their debuts in roles that are crucial in the quest to build more socially and environmentally conscious companies. Former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson (No. 35), who heads Apple’s sustainability efforts, reports directly to CEO Tim Cook and is responsible for ensuring that the tech juggernaut hits its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. Intel chief diversity and inclusion officer Barbara Whye (No. 40), an engineer by training, is not only making sure her company reflects the true composition of the U.S. workforce but is also helping to set standards and metrics across the tech industry. At Amazon, former GM executive Alicia Boler Davis (No. 12) has the massive task of keeping the company’s hundreds of thousands of warehouse employees safe as they work on overdrive to meet ballooning consumer demand.

Our list this year also reflects industries that have not had much of a presence in our rankings in the past. As president and COO of SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell (No. 48)  is sending astronauts into space from U.S. soil for the first time in years. And in more terrestrial endeavors, Simon & Schuster SVP and publisher Dana Canedy (No. 50), the first Black person to head a major publishing imprint, is set to have an outsize impact on our culture.

We ended up with 13 newcomers and a ranking of women who are trying to use their power to make certain that their companies and communities emerge from this trying period better off than they were before. The result is a list that is more diverse, in every sense of the word, than we’ve had in the past—essentially a list that is more reflective of the moment we’re living in.

The 2020 Most Powerful Women list was written by: Danielle Abril, Kristen Bellstrom, Robert Hackett, Matt Heimer, Emma Hinchliffe, Aric Jenkins, Beth Kowitt, Michal Lev-Ram, Sy Mukherjee, Aaron Pressman, Lucinda Shen, Anne Sraders, Jonathan Vanian, Phil Wahba, and Jen Wieczner