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No, Reuters, Women Have Not Broken The Glass Ceiling

Reuters runs a misleading visualization of the glass ceiling. Then someone fixed it.

Numbers don’t lie, but when rendered into graphs and charts, they can be incredibly misleading. Case in point, this Reuters visualization of the glass ceiling in Fortune 500 companies.

On its own, this image (by graphics editor Steve Culp) looks so positive. You can watch as women build a mountain to the top of the corporate food chain! How high do they climb? Who knows! It’s to the top of the graph! And everyone knows that graphs, above all else, should go up! Up is good!

But look closer, and you’ll see, women CEOs only account for 4% of the Fortune 500.

It’s a visual lie brought to light by New York artist Jonathan Keller Keller, who corrected the graphic by adding a persistent, more reasonably scaled y-axis. Without question, Keller’s fix provides a more accurate, grounded presentation of the truth: There may be more female CEOs than there used to be, but a woman at the head of a Fortune 500 company is still a very rare sight indeed.

UPDATE: Reuters has added the improved graph to their story.

See it here.

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  • jplummer

    Shouldn't the scale go to 50% (or 51%)? Surely success is parity, rather than 100% women CEOs?

  • Voilà Info Design

    The Reuters' graph was misleading. A graph is a visual and no amount of labelling can hide the fact that the graph suggested a steep increase that doesn't exist in the real world. 4% in 18 years is not a steep increase.

    I explain this much in a blog post, but since I can't post links here, there's always the link to my website in my Disqus profile.

  • Roger

    I don't agree. Clearly written above the graph it states that the glass ceiling still exists. If it had said something like "growth in proportion of women in CEO roles" I would be more inclined to agree with you, since the ambiguity of the header would cause the reader to infer more from the visual appearance of the graph, at which point the artificial steepness you mentioned would have more influence.

    At best I could accept that it's a bit sloppy. But it certainly is not an attempt at deception. And it's not really your redesign I am responding to here. What I am responding to is the fact that this article is entitled "No, Reuters, Women Have Not Broken The Glass Ceiling", when the visual makes no such claim at all.

  • Voilà Info Design

    A scale to consider would have been 50%, the theoretical target in a gender-neutral world. It would have clearly shown the gap.

    And no amount of labelling could save this graph from its misleading visual.

  • Roger

    It does say "the glass ceiling persists" above it, though, does it not? And it clearly says the number is 4 percent. I don't find that a misleading visualization at all. It lacks the punch of the other version, sure. But it isn't misleading.

  • Sebastian Quevedo-Busch

    It depends what you want to show

    If you want to show many more women have become CEO for F500 companies in the last 15 years, then the above is quiet good. If you want to show how much they make out of the total, then the bottom is better.

    I think reuters graphic isn't that bad since it shows how well woman have done in relatively little time, which is a positive thing.

  • Voilà Info Design

    Keller was right to correct the graph. He could however have used a 50% scale to represent the true theoretical target of gender balance. Here's such a redesign, with more changes.

    Also, people who think that the scale was right to show the "details" are missing the point of the data. Here's an entry about this graph and gender.