There are a lot more talented white men than any other demographic group, if Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 lists are to be believed. The lists aim to identify “young disruptors, innovators and entrepreneurs who are transforming our world,” according to a Forbes press release. This year there were 20 lists covering a wide range of industries including entertainment, sports, music, science, healthcare, and technology.
One major thing stuck out across the majority of the lists: the dominance of white males, particularly in technology. So we conducted a very unscientific analysis of the magazine’s lists. If a person’s race or ethnicity was not declared in the list or otherwise on a social media profile or online in a news story, Quartz made a judgment based on names and photos. People who were of more than two minority races (i.e. Korean and black, but not black and white), as well as the people whose race or ethnicity we were not able to reasonably deduce, were categorized as “Other/unknown.” While it’s possible that we may have mislabeled people, the numbers undoubtedly demonstrate the Forbes judges think that young white men are worthy of the lion’s share of professional attention.
Of the entire 682 names that were featured, 305—45%—were white men, making them overrepresented compared to their share of the US population, which was about 31% by 2013 estimates. Asians, including South Asians and Pacific Islanders, were also overrepresented. (It should be noted that most but not all the people on the Forbes list are American.) Overall on the Forbes list, two-thirds of those honored were men and one-third women.
For the purposes of this analysis, those of Middle Eastern descent were not categorized as white (as they are in the US Census) and South Americans were categorized as Hispanic/Latino. Forbes released some demographic data on the group, such as education level and debt, but told Quartz they did not have data for gender and race/ethnicity.
The most stark deficiencies in the Forbes lists were of black or African American people and Hispanic or Latino people, who make up 17% of the US but only 4% of the lists.
According to an email from Forbes spokeswoman Wendy Egan, “Diversity wasn’t a criteria [sic], but it was important to cover the scope of each category in all its different facets so it was a representative group.”
That technology and finance are male-dominated fields was readily apparent. Here’s what technology’s finest (combining the lists of consumer tech and enterprise tech) look like, according to Forbes:
Of the 77 people, 69 are men; 52 are white men. The racial makeup is pretty stark too:
Some of the technology sector has recognized its shortcomings in diversity lately, with companies from Google to Microsoft releasing their internal demographics. Of the eight major companies whose numbers the Wall Street Journal analyzed, none had more than 24% of technology employees who were women (that was at eBay). Twitter has 10% female tech employees, which is the same as the Forbes list. The Forbes technology list is whiter than the companies the Journal polled—73% white on the Forbes list compared to no more than 60% on the Journal’s.
Lists like the Forbes 30 Under 30 risk homogenizing industries even more and can perpetuate the idea that the best ideas are coming from one group of people. In turn, those people are given more recognition and opportunities and a cycle of inequality continues. Forbes, for example, hosts a conference for 30 Under 30 picks, complete with mentors and “’Shark Tank’-style pitches in front of the world’s top venture capitalists.”