Too Many Males

To much fanfare and coverage, LinkedIn recently announced their Next Wave influencer program. Browsing the list of people selected, I started feeling uneasy with the number of men who were also listed as CEOs. Back in 2014, Harvard Business Review put out a fact sheet showing only 14.6% of executive roles are held by women despite being more than 50% of the workforce.

Putting the 150 new influencers into a spreadsheet, 23 of them were women holding executive roles. So let’s talk about that

An Analysis of LinkedIn’s Next Wave

LinkedIn’s Next Wave is a quarterly list of professionals that the company wants to highlight. Many hold leadership roles in their companies, although there are also contributors, activists, and other individuals who make up the total collection.

Digging deeper into the numbers doesn’t offer any additional comfort.

  • 66% of the C-level writers selected are men. Over 60% of all leadership positions highlighted in the Next Wave are men. Law has seven highlighted men, all of whom are C*O individuals. Women in Law are represented by a single CEO and one Partner. Despite having a an even split in the Retail and Fashion category, four male CEOs were highlighted while only one female CEO was. Almost half of the categories presented were 70% male.
  • A bright spot in the data is the Energy category. Not only are the number of highlighted individuals balanced, but there is a much better 5:4 mix of men to women in leadership positions. Furthermore, the majority of the C-level positions highlighted in the Energy category are women.
  • But when you put it all together, 23 of 150 individuals are women in a C-level position. 15% of LinkedIn’s Next Wave are women in an executive role.

What Went Wrong?

Unfortunately, without any insight into LinkedIn’s editorial process, we can only speculate what happened. However, the blog article indicates through tidbits around MBAs and volunteer work that some amount of aggregate analysis was done. While it’s possible nobody spoke up, it’s also possible LinkedIn never really asked.

It’s unfortunate this is the long shadow given the company’s recent diversity efforts. Coming up short on something billed to “highlight different professionals and companies that are doing extraordinary work” feels like people weren’t paying attention.

The next Next Wave needs to be better.

The Next Next Wave

As the default professional network of record, LinkedIn has the ability to affect change in both their own technology industry as well as the larger economic workforce. However, the list in its current form reinforces our unconscious perception of what it means to be a thought leader (male, mostly white). Those who are underrepresented benefit the most from an effort to be more inclusive.

According to LinkedIn, these lists of individuals are curated as a quarterly exercise. While it’s unrealistic to go back and remove individuals from the current list, the list itself can be improved. Here’s a few suggestions.

  • Basha Rubin and Mirra Levitt founded Priori Legal to help businesses find the lawyers they need and would be great additions to the Law category.
  • Retail and Fashion could be improved by asking Ellie Williams, President of Tog+Porter to contribute.
  • Rachel Holt holds the East Coast of Uber together and would add new perspectives to Automotive.

There are countless other diverse voices that could make LinkedIn’s Influencer program better. Improving the influence program is two steps. First, share the influencer demographics. Just like how LinkedIn and many other companies share their employment numbers, a program designed to promote thought leaders should also be transparent about their program’s makeup. Second, continue to improve those influencer demographics. Since LinkedIn is committed to bringing new lists of people to follow every quarter, there’s 3 more opportunities this year to make these lists better and improve the overall diversity of the influencer program.

Dan Roth and team have done a fantastic job in creating the momentum and energy that defines LinkedIn’s Influencer program. It’s up to LinkedIn to take this energy and convert it into a force for change.

You can view the raw spreadsheet here.

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Code Drift is the personal website of Rudolph Jakob Heuser