|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, making this year one of the most competitive yet.
We also published our 15 Most Powerful Women in Startups, highlighting the women who are likely to be running tomorrow’s next big public businesses.
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.