Great thinkers – a male preserve?

A self-confessed list junkie, I was immediately drawn to Gideon Rachman’s piece in yesterday’s FT in which he asks: “Where have all the great thinkers gone?” Citing Foreign Policy magazine’s List of the Top 100 Global Thinkers, Rachman contrasts the list, heavily biased towards US politicians, with those one might draw up for 1861 or 1939 – and finds the class of 2011 wanting.

Some weeks ago, we looked at consulting firm Crainer Dearlove’s Thinkers 50 list, which uses a management theory lens to identify its own court of the most influential minds. There were just three women on the list.

Foreign Policy’s list includes 27 women, the highest-ranking of whom are both politicians: Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, at 13 and Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister, at 22. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy activist, comes in at 76, and Martha Nussbaum, the American philosopher, is also listed (90).

If we were compiling a list of 20th-century global women thinkers, who would you include? In no particular order, candidates might be philosopher Simone de Beauvoir; political theorist Hannah Arendt; novelist Gertrude Stein; Elizabeth Anscombe, philosopher and friend to Wittgenstein; Nobel Prize-winner Gertrude Elion (who developed drugs to combat leukaemia and later HIV); Marie Curie; economist Carmen Reinhart; Rosalind Franklin, the crystallographer whose work contributed to early DNA theory; and mathematician Amalie Emmy Noether, a contemporary of Albert Einstein.

Then there is also economist Asli Demirgüc-Kunt; Inge Lehmann, the Danish seismologist; Indian biologist Asha Kolte; German geneticist Christiane Nusslein-Volhard, also a Nobel Prize winner; British geneticist Gillian Bates; Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi; and British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst.

There are also writers Ayn Rand, Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer and Susan Sontag, scientists Barbara McClintock and Susan Greenfield, and Indian politician Sonia Gandhi.

How many of them could stand up with the most influential 20th-century male thinkers – Einstein, Orwell, T.S. Eliot, Sartre, Gandhi, Hayek, Freud, Jung, Picasso and Keynes?

Who would be on your list?

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.