One of the many insights Mary Kaye Schilling gleaned from spending time with Reese Witherspoon is that the award-winning actress and producer likes to play a parlor game with her family: They’ll watch television, and Witherspoon will pause the programming and ask her husband and kids to describe what they just saw. They might offer an observation about the product or the characters in an ad. Witherspoon will note how many (or few) women were featured.
Witherspoon’s commitment to increasing the number of women in prominent roles in Hollywood—on screen and behind the scenes—predates the rise of the Time’s Up movement, of which she is a leader. It is at the heart of Hello Sunshine, her media company, which aims to tell women’s stories across a variety of platforms, and it has helped earn her the No. 11 spot on Fast Company‘s annual list of the Most Creative People in Business.
Others on the list share Witherspoon’s passion for surfacing underrepresented faces and narratives, including Tonl’s Joshua Kissi (No. 64), whose stock photo company features people of color in everyday situations; author Jason Reynolds (No. 40), who writes young-adult fiction with African-American teen protagonists; and Alma Har’el (No. 90), who formed a nonprofit organization to increase the number of female directors of commercials.
Indeed, this very list is an exercise in inclusiveness. Twelve of our Most Creatives are based outside the United States, nearly a third are people of color, and 56 are women. For the first time, five teenagers—Jaclyn Corin, Emma González, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, and Alex Wind—top the list, for doing more to change the conversation on gun control than previous generations of activists. Our cover shoot featured an almost entirely female crew, from our photography director, Sarah Filippi, to legendary photographer Ellen von Unwerth, whose portraits of Witherspoon for Fast Company have the feel of instant classics.
None of this is by accident. My predecessor, Robert Safian, once told me that he would send early drafts of the Most Creative People list back to his editors if half the nominees weren’t women. I was impressed and a little amazed: At the time, I’d spent my career at the Wall Street Journal and Fortune, and despite my best efforts, I’d never achieved that level of gender parity in the projects I’d edited.
It is my honor and privilege to continue Bob’s work. In his 11 years as editor, he pushed Fast Company to mirror the passion, purpose, creativity, and innovation of the companies and leaders it covers. Under his tenure, Fast Company consistently found ways to surprise readers—franchises such as Most Creative People are bursting with characters and ideas you won’t read about anywhere else. (Editorial director Jill Bernstein, who oversees the Most Creative package, calls the list a treasure trove for recruiters looking for groundbreaking talent.)
I hope that you, as members of the Fast Company circle, will help us stay vital and strong by telling us what you think of our journalism. You can reach me at email@example.com and on Twitter at @stephaniemehta. Part of Fast Company‘s strength is that it’s not just a magazine and website; it’s a community.