Moira Forbes, EVP of Forbes Media and Publisher of ForbesWoman, has the kind of last name that immediately makes you tilt your head back and raise your eyebrows. Forbes. Yes. Heard of it.
Moira Forbes, journalist and knowledge seeker, makes you tilt your head to the side and listen intently as she speaks, curious as to what knowledge nugget she’ll drop next.
Growing up in one of the most powerful and influential families in publishing, Moira is one of five daughters of Steve Forbes, current Editor-in-Chief of the publication, and Sabina Beekman. Her great-grandfather B. C. Forbes founded the media company, releasing the first issue in September 1917. The inaugural 52 pages featured the business of “Doers and Doings,” as well as a section called “Women in Business.” This might not seem revolutionary now, but it would be three more years before the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting women the right to vote. “My great-grandfather,” says Moira, “was interested in telling great stories in business. The huge successes and the big misses,” regardless of gender. The core mission of the media company “has remained the same,” she says, and is an exploration of humanity that captured her attention as a young girl.
On Moira’s ninth birthday, her grandfather gave her a leather briefcase, which she filled with any office supplies she could get her hands on and lots of pens. The same year, her father bought her a name plaque for her desk. “I loved playing office. Office and store were my two favorite things. I loved interviewing people growing up. We’d play newspaper. It was a natural interaction and curiosity.” She was always interviewing family members, asking questions, questing after the story.
At the moment that story is ForbesWoman. The platform launched in 2008. ‘It was a time in our business,” she says, “where we were really looking for growth and opportunity, and looking for a deeper commitment to audiences that are important to Forbes.” She believes that the content in the magazine is just as relevant to women as it is to men, however, “we felt the opportunity to go a level deeper and engage with the community about the unique dynamics of women in business.”
The focus of ForbesWoman is on female entrepreneurship and sharing stories from female movers and shakers (AKA the doers), in an environment that offers practical advice, and creates “a community of women who are striking out on their own, making unconventional decisions, and looking to see how others are charting their course.”
Moira was directly involved in this decision, calling it a passion of hers. After looking around the media landscape and not finding content that she wanted -- from career to leadership to more soft story elements around lifestyle, she narrowed in. “There was a void of content that we felt was authentic to our brand and that our audience was eager to consume.”
“It is a very exciting time for those who didn’t have a voice before,” Moira says.
Digital has created an extraordinary path for women to contribute in the business world. Entrepreneurship is on the rise for women. There is more access than ever. A sea change for women professionally, socially, and politically, came with the Democratic nomination of Hilary Clinton for president.
“When you see women reach the highest levels of power,” she explains, noting that the person in the White House is the most influential person on the planet, “and they’re at the helm of the most powerful nation in the world, that’s a very powerful sentiment. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”
It’s an incontrovertible notion. “As women continue to break through these last glass ceilings, it makes for a powerful statement that these opportunities are possible.” She makes quite clear that change will never be quick or easy, but it is nonetheless important. If digital is a fast-paced, quick animal (content is fast, stories are 140 characters) change is its tail, dragging behind. There are two ways to view this. Frustrating sure, specifically in a nation that Moira says, “prides itself on opportunity and access.” But no change or success has ever come without setback and failure. Opportunity knocks often on the heel of disappointment, it’s simply unfortunate that some of us are too busy wailing to hear the call.
“I think change is slow,” she says, “because the business ecosystem is much larger than just female entrepreneurs. You look at access to capital-- that remains a huge challenge. You look at opportunities that influence policy and government that are inextricably linked to business, which are still areas where women don’t have the same level of representation.”
Ecosystems and sectors outside of business are also still in the midst of giant shifts. They are all parts of the massive, slow moving machine that is equal representation, though as the parts become better oiled, there will be less friction, more motion. “It’s very hard to steer those parts in a different direction,” she says, “so you do have to work to drive change in all the different sectors and realize that it isn’t as simple as we portray it to be. There isn’t a CEO who is saying ‘I don’t want more diverse boards,’ or ‘I don’t want more women at the table,’ but how you do that and how you go about that change can be difficult for a variety of different reasons.”
She lists a few including: socioeconomic, political, cultural -- particularly issues with unconscious bias. “Something,” she notes, “that each of us holds, but are those small things that can have big repercussions.” She thinks it’s positive that culture can change faster than ever before -- social media and the shifting idea around influence and power certainly being precipitant factors, but creating what she calls lasting change and gender parity, even with “the greatest enthusiasm, effort and commitment, will take time.”
“Lasting change and gender parity, even with the greatest enthusiasm, effort and commitment, will take time.”
In a way, lasting change is like piecing together a good story: the parts come together in bits, you work for them, seek them out, and sometimes you get hung up on or ghosted, but for the sake of the story, you never give up. The is the crux of where Moira finds her own calling: the hard parts and the “curveballs you’d never expect.”
“Understanding the stories of how people keep moving forward, what inspires them to continue to act and gives them a sense of mission, day in and day out, to fight the fight when many people would throw up their hands and say it’s just not worth it,” that’s what she wants to share.
So what is a reasonable timeline for the current fight toward gender parity? Even with the potential of a female POTUS, she says that even in the next 3-5 years there will not be true 50/50 representation.
This isn’t single-file success, but not everyone can get through an open door at the same time. A front door opens to a small hallway, a hallway leads into a dining room, and slowly more people gather at the table. “We need to create great pipelines for talent, understand how to identify and source great talent,” she says. It’s also vital to acknowledge that while we’re talking about women starting occupy the highest positions in a company, not that many positions are open; turnover at the top is slower. “We spend a lot of time,” she says, “talking about corporate boards and public companies and needing women on these boards, which is very important, but the flip side is that there are only 100-120 of those spots that open up each year. I think we have to be ambitious with our goals and be realistic about what are the challenges and opportunities to get there.”
Noting, “You can’t hit fast-forward on experience but the next best thing is to learn from the experience of others.” She sees ForbesWoman as the storyteller, sourcing and sharing the relevant content with an audience that can thrive on the information parlayed. And she wants “to be able to scale and amplify these great stories, to inspire people to act, and think differently.”
The content she is most interested in is comeback stories. “When we talk about success we talk about it as a destination and think about the heroes of entrepreneurship and business. We think about the context of where they are now,” she says, “but no great success or achievement occurred without setbacks and failure along the way.” This was a mission of her great-grandfather from the beginning, who penned the following words in that first September issue:
“The most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.”
Despite the movement toward gender equality, Moira believes “women still face the challenge of a narrower band of acceptable behavior. You have to walk a much narrower line to communicate confidence in a way that others will be receptive to and not turned off by.”
She says hard work and great work are number one, but women should also pick their heads up and let people know what work they're doing. “Let people know what your ambitions and aspirations are,” she says.
It’s impossible to have this conversation without mentioning Hillary Clinton again, a case study of both an ambitious, unapologetic woman who has broken through one of the final glass ceilings, who has also been subject to immense criticism of that unabashed determination. “Women are still subject to [biases],” Moira says. “There is a crisis of confidence sometimes where [women] feel badly and ashamed of that and want to hide.” She adds, “I’ve never met a man who has impostor syndrome.”
Irrespective of party politics, she celebrates Clinton’s achievements and nomination as “a historic moment in this country. You have to recognize that and celebrate whether you support Hillary Clinton or not.”
The sense of possibility is great. “The fact that we haven’t seen a female president in our lifetime, yet -- you can’t underestimate the power of those cultural messages. You need to have the role models of what’s possible because then it’s no longer questioned.”
She brings up the Roger Bannister effect. “For hundreds of years they said no one could break the four-minute mile. It was always said it was impossible and there were articles written that you would die. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile and then within months of that five more people did. It’s a great reminder that when the impossible is made possible the powerful effect that has.”
We ask what she would have in her leather briefcase today. She laughs. “Nothing. It’s all on my phone. Shows how times have changed.”
Yes, times have changed, but the Forbes commitment to its roots has not. “We’ve always been rooted in telling the story, empowering our audience to not only achieve success in business but achieve success in life. That has been our core, fundamental guiding principle, so how we tell that story and the way we tell that story-- the platform may change but the core mission has remained the same,” she says.
And that is hardly nothing.
Arianna Schioldager is editorial director of Create & Cultivate.