File photo courtesy: Unsplash.

Forbes’ “Most Innovative Leaders” list was a trending topic on social media Saturday and Sunday, with several widely-circulated posts questioning why the feature, which apparently profiles “the most creative and successful business minds [in the U.S.] today” only includes one woman, Ross Stores CEO Barbara Rentler.

To make the optics even worse, Rentler was placed in the 75th spot out of 100 and her photo was not featured, replaced instead with a greyed-out, male sillouhette.

Securing Rentler’s photograph wouldn’t have been an arduous task for a well-connected organization like Forbes, a fact that was made even clearer by several publications using her image alongside their coverage of the Forbes list.

Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg (and their accompanying photographs) make up the top three.

Forbes commissioned two business school professors and a consultant, all male, to assemble the list which is based on four merits:

  • Media reputation for innovation
  • Social connections/capital
  • Track record for value creation
  • Investor expectations for value creation

Twitter users were quick to point out the lack of gender diversity — not only on the list itself, but also in the editorial process.

On Sunday, Forbes responded to the criticism, admitting the predominantly-male profile was an “opportunity missed.”

In a Sunday op-ed, Forbes chief content officer Randall Lane says the methodology was similar to the process Forbes uses to populate its “Most Innovative Companies” list.

“This pool ultimately proved the problem,” he writes.

“Women, as we all know, are poorly represented at the top of the largest corporations (just 5% of the S&P 500) and fare even worse among growing public tech companies. In other words, for all our carefully-calibrated methodology, women never had much of a chance here.”

In retrospect, Lane says Forbes should have used the opportunity to analyze the larger, societal barriers and unconscious (and conscious) bais that prevents women from ascending into the highest levels of management.

 “Forbes’ brand stems from inclusive, entrepreneurial capitalism – the idea that free markets, open to all, have proven the best-ever system to produce wealth and happiness and solve societal problems,” Lane writes, adding the publication will now have to “rethink” its processes surrounding its “Most Innovative Leaders” list.