These are the women who adhere to the traditional classifications of power (political and economic might) and those who have risen to the top of the social and cultural landscape. From CEOs and heads of state to early adopter entrepreneurs, celebrity role models, billionaire activists and philanthropists who are healing the world, Forbes ranks the women who matter most.
15. Virginia Rometty
Virginia Marie “Ginni” Rometty is an American business executive; the president and CEO of IBM. She is the first woman to head IBM. Prior to becoming president and CEO in January 2012 she held the position of Senior Vice President and Group Executive for Sales, Marketing, and Strategy at IBM. She has been ranked #15 on Forbes magazine’s “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women 2012″. She has been named to Fortune magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” for seven consecutive years, ranking #7 for 2011. She was also named to the Time 100 in 2012.
14. Lady Gaga
Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta known by her stage name Lady Gaga, is an American singer and songwriter. Besides her musical career, she involves herself with humanitarian causes and LGBT activism. She has sold an estimated 23 million albums and 64 million singles worldwide, making her one of the best-selling music artists of all time and her singles are some of the best selling worldwide. Lady Gaga has consecutively appeared on Billboard magazine’s Artists of the Year (scoring the definitive title in 2010), ranked fourth in VH1′s list of 100 Greatest Women in Music, is regularly placed on lists composed by Forbes magazine and was named one of the most influential people in the world by Time magazine. In 2012, Gaga was ranked at number four on Billboard’s list of top moneymakers of 2011, grossing more than $25 million.
13. Irene Rosenfeld
Irene Blecker Rosenfeld is an American businesswoman who is the current Chairman and CEO of Kraft Foods. In 2008 she was placed sixth on The Wall Street Journal’s “50 Women to Watch” list. Forbes rated Rosenfeld 2nd on the top 10 Most Powerful Women in 2010 and 10th in 2011. In 2010, Rosenfeld earned total compensation of $19.288 million, placing her 48th on the Forbes Executive Pay.
12. Indra Nooyi
Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi is a Indian-American business executive and the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo, the second largest food and beverage business in the world by net revenue. According to Forbes, she is consistently ranked among World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. In 2010 she was named #1 on Fortune’s list of the “50 Most Powerful Women”. After five years on top, PepsiCo’s Indian American chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi has been pushed to the second spot as most powerful woman in US business by Kraft’s CEO, Irene Rosenfeld. Nooyi was named to Institutional Investor’s Best CEOs list in the All-America Executive Team Survey in 2008 to 2011.
11. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey is an American media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist. Winfrey is best known for her self-titled, multi-award-winning talk show, which has become the highest-rated program of its kind in history and was nationally syndicated from 1986 to 2011. She has been ranked the richest African-American of the 20th century,the greatest black philanthropist in American history, and was for a time the world’s only black billionaire. She is also, according to some assessments, the most influential woman in the world.
10. Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Kara Sandberg is an American businesswoman. She has served as the chief operating officer of Facebook since 2008. In June 2012, she was also elected to the board of directors by the existing board members, becoming the first woman to serve on its board. Before Facebook, Sandberg was Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google. She also was involved in launching Google’s philanthropic arm Google.org. Before Google, Sandberg served as chief of staff for the United States Department of the Treasury. In 2012, she was named in Time 100, an annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world assembled by Time.
09. Janet Napolitano
Janet Napolitano is the third and current United States Secretary of Homeland Security, serving in the administration of President Barack Obama. She is the fourth person (including an acting Secretary) to hold the position, which was created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A member of the Democratic Party, she was the 21st Governor of Arizona from 2003 to 2009. She was Arizona’s third female governor, and the first woman to win re-election. Prior to her election as governor, she served as Attorney General of Arizona from 1999 to 2002. She was the first woman and the 23rd person to serve in that office. Napolitano is the 1977 Truman Scholar from New Mexico. Forbes ranked her as the world’s 9th most powerful woman in 2012.
08. Christine Lagarde
Christine Madeleine Odette Lagarde is a French lawyer and Union for a Popular Movement politician who has been the Managing Director (MD) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) since 5 July 2011. Previously, she held various ministerial posts in the French government: she was Minister of Economic Affairs, Finances and Industry and before that Minister of Agriculture and Fishing and Minister of Trade in the government of Dominique de Villepin. Lagarde was the first woman ever to become Minister of Economic Affairs of a G8 economy, and is the first woman to ever head the IMF. A noted antitrust and labour lawyer, Lagarde made history by becoming the first female chair of the international law firm Baker & McKenzie. On 16 November 2009, the Financial Times ranked her the best Minister of Finance in the Eurozone.
07. Michelle Obama
Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is the wife of the 44th and incumbent President of the United States, Barack Obama, and is the first African-American First Lady of the United States. Subsequently, she worked as part of the staff of Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, and for the University of Chicago Medical Center. As the wife of a Senator, and later the First Lady, she has become a fashion icon and role model for women, and an advocate for poverty awareness, nutrition and healthy eating.
06. Sonia Gandhi
Sonia Gandhi is an Italian-born Indian politician and the President of the Indian National Congress, one of the major political parties of India. She is the widow of former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi and belongs to Nehru–Gandhi family. After his assassination in 1991, she was invited by the Indian National Congress to take over the Congress but refused and publicly stayed away from politics amidst constant prodding by the Congress. She finally agreed to join politics in 1997; in 1998, she was elected as the leader of the Congress. Since then, Sonia Gandhi has been the President of the Indian National Congress Party. She has served as the Chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance in the Lok Sabha since 2004. In September 2010, on being re-elected for the fourth time, she became the longest serving president in the 125-year history of the Congress party.
05. Jill Abramson
Jill Ellen Abramson is the executive editor of The New York Times. In year one as the first woman at the top of the New York Times masthead, Jill Abramson has shuffled senior editorial staff and captained the 161-year-old publication through an ongoing digital transformation. Now behind a paywall, NYTimes.com has recruited more than half a million paid subscribers and attracts over 40 million unique visitors worldwide each month. The native New Yorker and Harvard grad attended SXSW Interactive for the first time this year, discussing her vision of the future of the Times, her pride in being the first female executive editor of the paper and the rise of individual journalistic brands on the site. In October 2011 she released her third book, The Puppy Diaries, about raising her golden retriever, Scout. Her previous two books investigated U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and the career paths of the women in the 1974 class of Harvard Law.
04. Melinda Gates
Melinda French Gates is an American businesswoman and philanthropist. She is the wife of Bill Gates. She is the co-founder and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a former unit manager for several Microsoft products such as Publisher, Microsoft Bob, Encarta, and Expedia. In May 2006, she was honored for her work with the naming of the Melinda French Gates Ambulatory Care building, at Seattle Children’s. She also chaired The Campaign for Children’s, a $300 million comprehensive fundraising campaign to expand facilities, fund under compensated and uncompensated care and grow the hospital’s research program to find cures and treatments. Melinda has also donated over 10 million dollars to her high school Ursuline Academy of Dallas. She is one of the major donors of their Facing the Future Campaign and was honored in their dedication ceremony on May 7, 2010.
03. Dilma Rousseff
Dilma Vana Rousseff is the 36th and current President of Brazil. She is the first woman to hold the office. Prior to that, in 2005, she was also the first woman to become Chief of Staff to the President of Brazil, appointed by then President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The president of one of the world’s largest economies is ambitious at the mid-point of her first term, launching two aggressive programs meant to reverse the still-strong but shrinking national GDP. Brasil Sem Miséria (Brazil Without Misery) is a Great Society-style program aimed at eradicating dire poverty and increasing access to education, medical care and sanitation services to those in need by 2014. A second initiative focuses on business growth and innovation, including protectionist tariffs on imports, subsidies for exports and incentivizing micro and small businesses. She tells FORBES, “What I want my legacy to be is this country to be increasing middle class, to be highly competitive and highly educated.” A June poll put Rousseff’s approval rating at 77%, and she is predicted to win a second four-year term in 2014.
02. Hillary Clinton
Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton is the 67th United States Secretary of State, serving in the administration of President Barack Obama. She was a United States Senator for New York from 2001 to 2009. As the wife of the 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton, she was the First Lady of the United States from 1993 to 2001. In the 2008 election, Clinton was a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. In keeping with her reputation as a no-nonsense diplomat, Hillary Clinton is spending her final months as Secretary of State far from the campaign trail. Much of that time has been on the go: this year alone she’s traveled to 42 countries. The former Presidential candidate has faced a formidable past 12 months: She’s navigated treacherous territory when WikiLeaks released sensitive diplomatic cables in November, urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to hand over his power and leave his country and recently warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to chart a different course than his militant father. And she went viral: the tumblr blog “Texts From Hillary” became a popular meme in April. Clinton has steadfastly said that she plans to move out of public life at the end of the year, but supporters are breathless over the possibility of a 2016 Presidential bid.
01. Angela Merkel
Angela Dorothea Merkel is the Chancellor of Germany and Chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Merkel is the first female Chancellor of Germany. In 2007, Merkel was President of the European Council and chaired the G8, the second woman (after Margaret Thatcher) to do so. She played a central role in the negotiation of the Treaty of Lisbon and the Berlin Declaration. One of her priorities was also to strengthen transatlantic economic relations by signing the agreement for the Transatlantic Economic Council on 30 April 2007. Angela Merkel has for several years been described as the world’s most powerful woman and as “the de facto leader of the European Union”. Merkel also called on international leaders to renew the Kyoto agreement, a commitment to reduce greenhouse gases that she helped ratify as Germany’s environmental minister in the 1990s. She has been chancellor since 2005, and her recent public approval ratings soared to near 70%–a good sign leading into the general election in the fall of 2013.