The world’s most powerful woman, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has a lot on her mind these days: Mediterranean migrants, Russian sanctions, homegrown spying scandals, Eurozone stability and the Germanwings crash, to name a few pressing issues. One thing she surely isn’t thinking about — but we are — is that come next year’s U.S. elections, she could lose her title for the first time since 2010 to the one person with a credible and mathematical chance of “leading” the world.
Hillary Clinton has appeared on this FORBES ranking every year since it launched in 2004 as, in order, a senator, secretary of state and influential personality. In 2015 Clinton is No. 2, just a breath and a ballot away from the Most Powerful Woman crown.
This is FORBES’ definitive annual audit of the extraordinary foremost heads of state, iconic entrepreneurs and CEOS, celebrity role models, billionaire activists, and pioneer philanthropists, all ranked by money, media momentum, spheres of influence and impact (full methodology here).
The most powerful women in politics, philanthropy, business and tech are, in order, Merkel, Gates, Barra and Sandberg. Our top ranking billionaire this year is Oprah Winfrey at No. 12, who has a personal net worth of $3 billion. Ana Patricia Botin, the newly installed chair of Banco Santander, is the top woman in finance at No. 18. Beyonce Knowles leads in the entertainment field at No. 21, while Anna Wintour, Conde Nast artistic director, is reigns over the media sector at No. 28.
The concept of power can be nebulous — especially when it comes to gender. As of January 2015, 10 women served as heads of state and 14 as heads of government. Women currently hold 23 (4.6%) of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. Of a total 1,826 global billionaires, 197 are women — 11% of the total. Only 9% of executive officers in Silicon Valley are women.
That these wretched stats continue year after year is a serious and pressing issue. But there’s hardly a void of powerful women – and the numbers are growing. That is, if we enlarge our focus from just who owns the greatest wealth or the heaviest corporate hammer to include the women whose influence and impact may be greater than the sum of their title.
The headlines remind us whenever another woman gets the top job. Examples: GM’s Mary Barra, Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, IMF head Christine Lagarde. But the fact that a great many of the women on this list are not the pointy head of the pyramid — such as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala or Gwynne Shotwell, COO of SpaceX and Apple’s Angela Ahrendts — doesn’t dim their enormous clout. They appear on this list because they illustrate a new math– it turns out you don’t need to be No. 1 to be a Most Powerful.
The 2015 Most Powerful Women list features eight heads of state (plus one monarch) who run nations with a combined GDP of $9.1 trillion with over 600 million citizens — including the newly elected Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz. The 24 corporate CEOs control nearly $1 trillion in annual revenues, and 18 of the women here founded their own companies or foundations, including our youngest self-made billionaire, Elizabeth Holmes, 31. Speaking of, this year’s class has 15 billionaires with cumulative net worth of nearly $75 billion. The total social media footprint (Twitter, YouTube) of all 100 Power Women is nearly 475 million followers.
Here, a quick peek at Power Women 2015:
Newcomers: Nineteen are new to the list in 2015. Ana Patricia Botin, the new chair of Banco Santander and the most powerful woman in finance, makes a strong first showing at No. 18. Other names to know: Google CFO Ruth Porat, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Taylor Swift, top venture capitalist Jenny Lee of GGV Capital.
Read more: Forbes