We all think our mother is the best. But who’s the most powerful mom in the world—managing billions of dollars, entire populations and the little ones?
With Mother’s Day around the corner, ForbesWoman analyzed the annual list of the world’s 100 most powerful women—based on money controlled, decision-making power and multiple measures of influence—and teased out the moms who are at the top of their game. From spheres of government, business, entertainment and philanthropy, these 20 moms rule the roost–and the world.
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This year, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, mom of daughter Chelsea, ranks No. 1. With one of the biggest jobs in the world, Clinton is still a mother first. Two years ago as Chelsea planned to walk down the aisle, Clinton used email to stay abreast of wedding preparations, review photos and offer support. Global diplomacy and duties as a mother-of-the-bride were both “serious, important and stressful” jobs, she said at the time.
Power moms must develop unique strategies to succeed in both boardrooms and playrooms. Indra Nooyi (No. 3), chairman and chief of PepsiCo and mom of two, says if her kids call in the middle of a meeting, she takes the call. Sheryl Sandberg (No. 4), chief operating officer of Facebook and mother of two young children, says she leaves everyday at 5:30 to have dinner with her family.
Executive Editor of The New York Times, Jill Abramson (No. 10) told Forbes that when her two children were young, she tried to be available and informed on their class work. “I haven’t been a workaholic who hasn’t been home for the important times–and just about all times are important in family life,” she said. “When I was the Washington Bureau Chief, I had a set of my kids’ high-school books. I liked to read what they were reading, so that I could talk to them when I got home.”
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Today, Abramson’s children are in their twenties, and she is transitioning to no longer having kids in the house. How does she cope? “I have a golden retriever puppy,” she noted. “I think for those of us adjusting to an empty nest, after we threw ourselves into raising kids, that a loopy, hard-to-train, irrepressible, affectionate dog is a nice thing in [this period of] life.”
Many of the moms on the list have publicly acknowledged the difficulty that comes with being a mother and a professional, especially one with a high-octane career. Sandberg told Forbes in 2010 that when she was a new mother, “like everyone else, you try to do everything, and you just do everything badly all the time. When I first was at Facebook, I was definitely feeling way unbalanced and more worried about not seeing my kids. Then, I got my feet wet, got the teams in place, learned what we were doing, and now it feels more balanced.”
Sandberg has also been a champion for other women with or considering children, and warns them not to “leave before they leave.”
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“People start thinking about wanting to have a child,” Sandberg explained, “and then think, ‘Well, I couldn’t possibly have a child with my current schedule. I’ve got to find ways to cut things or at least stay where I am to make room for this huge obligation.’ So, at that moment, those women stop. Fast forward a year or two, maybe three, and you’re leaving a baby at home for a job, and you’re bored because you’ve been at the same job for three years too long.”
She advises women, expecting moms and new moms to “keep your foot on the gas pedal for as long as possible.”
Christine Lagarde (No. 6), managing director of the International Monetary Fund and mother of two, said when she was interviewed at the Board, it was a board of 24 men. “And that is a message about diversity.” Despite the majority of the staff being women, very few were in senior positions. “As is often the case, the higher you go in the hierarchy the fewer women there are.”
Lagarde believes it stems from maternity leave, and mother’s ability to stay connected during it and come back after it. “When you ask female employees who did manage to work their way up, they very often had the support of a husband or their parents, or they live in countries where domestic support is relatively easy and cheap,” she noted, adding that it’s both a cultural and structural issue.
And, as we all know, the mother’s work at home is incredibly important. Often, it paves the way for her daughter’s work outside it. Clinton’s mother, Dorothy Rodham, who died in November at age 92, helped her develop into a strong leader. When Clinton was 4-years-old and came home crying over a neighborhood bully, her mom advised, “You have to face things and show them you’re not afraid.” If Clinton got hit again, “hit her back,” her mother counseled.
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Likewise, mother-of-two Anne Sweeney (No. 19), co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC Television Group, told Forbes that her mother, an elementary school teacher, was “smart, strong-willed and inspirational.” Said Sweeney: “I remember when I was a kid, she really pushed me hard. I was studying for a Latin test, and I looked at her and I said, ‘You think I’m smarter than I am.’ She said, ‘You don’t know how smart you are.’”
“It was such a great thing for a parent to say that,” Sweeney continued. “Because it’s motivating, and you sit back and think, ‘Well, maybe I can do this. Maybe I can do more.’”