U.S. Markets closed

The world's most powerful women 2014

Caroline Howard
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen smiles as she testifies about the economy before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 7, 2014.(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

This is FORBES definitive annual guide to the extraordinary icons, game changers and ceiling crashers who are asserting themselves on the world stage.

In our annual snapshot of the 100 women with the most impact we showcase the top politicians, finance and business leaders, activist billionaires and celebrities who matter. In roughly equal measure you’ll find entrepreneurs and media mavens, technologists and philanthropists — all ranked by money, media momentum, spheres of influence and impact (see full methodology here).

The traditional definition of power is political and economic might. There is an obvious scarcity of women in global positions of authority. Less than 5% of the top U.S. companies have women CEOs. Slightly more than 10% of the 1,645 FORBES Billionaires 2014 are women. There are 14 incumbent female heads of state. This ranking thinks differently about power. In addition to the hammer-and-nail philosophy, we look to leaders whose tools are their impact and influence on the world.

[More from Forbes: Most Powerful Women in Tech]

The 2014 Most Powerful Women list features nine heads of state who run nations with a combined GDP of $11.1 trillion with 641 million citizens — including the No. 1 Power Woman, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The 28 corporate CEOs control $1.7 trillion in annual revenues, and 18 of the women here founded their own companies or foundations, including youngest self-made billionaire on the list, Sara Blakely, 43. Speaking of, this year’s class has 13 billionaires valued in excess of $81 billion. Their social media footprint exceeds 812 million followers.

Here, a quick peek at Power Women 2014:

Newcomers: Eighteen newcomers join the list this year. Janet Yellen, the new Federal Reserve chair and first woman to hold the position, makes a strong first showing at No. 2. Other names to know: Ambassador Samantha Power, Bank of Russia Governor Elvira Nabiullina, Bloomberg Philanthropies CEO Patricia Harris, Chinese search giant Alibaba's Lucy Peng and SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell.

Hall of Fame: At this 10th anniversary, eight women who appeared on the inaugural list in 2004 are still here today: Melinda Gates, Christine Lagarde, Hillary Clinton and Indra Nooyi. Also, of course, Oprah Winfrey, Amy Pascal, Queen Elizabeth II, and Ho Ching.
She’s No. 1: Chancellor Merkel has made the list ten times out of the past 11 editions — nine times as No. 1. She was first elected in 2005.

She’s the first: Forty percent of the women on the list are “female firsts,” such as Yellen, Barra, African head of state (Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf), president of Harvard University (Drew Gilpin Faust) and CEO at IBM (Gianni Rometty). Folorunsho Alakija is the first self-made African billionaire, Rep. Nancy Pelosi was the first-ever to hold the U.S. House Speaker's hammer, and Blakely was the first female billionaire to sign The Giving Pledge.

[More from Forbes: The Youngest Power Women]

Hillary stays on: Clinton’s CV is chock full of firsts: The only first lady to become a U.S. senator turned viable presidential candidate turned secretary of state. Now a private citizen and cofounder of The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, she continues to be one of the most watched and listened-to women on the planet. Bets are on that she will be the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate and, quite possibly, first woman elected to the Oval Office. She’s done little to quiet the chatter, saying she'll make a decision by the end of the year.

Women in tech: Technology takes a third turn as a category on the Power Women list. Seven tech women made the top 25 this year, including Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Rometty, Marissa Mayer and HP’s Meg Whitman. There are 18 technologists in total, including Susan Wojcicki, newly-named CEO of YouTube, Cher Wang, cofounder of HTC, and Cisco's CTO Padmasree Warrior.

The rising tide of female entrepreneurs: A remarkable number of women are founders or owners of their own enterprises, not a few of whose eponymous companies are synonymous with high fashion. Consider Miuccia Prada, Tory Burch and Diane von Furstenberg. Other self-made self-starters include Oprah Winfrey, Arianna Huffington, Chinese real estate tycoon Zhang Xin, and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, India’s first biotech entrepreneur.

Geographic diversity: More than half (58) of the women on the list are American, including immigrants such as von Furstenberg (Belgium), Power (Ireland), Weili Dai and TK. Asian and Southeast Asian citizens make the second strongest showing at 23. Latin America and the Middle East both have five women on the list, while Europe and Africa have four each. Elvira Nabiullina is the first Russian to make the list.

STEM degrees pay off: Technologists obviously benefit from science, technology, engineering and math degrees. On this year's list, along with the expected M.B.A.s and law degrees, there are a healthy dose of women who studies in STEM fields. Five are M.D.s: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, Margaret Chan of the World Health Organization, F.D.A.'s Margaret Hamburg , CARE USA chief Helene Gayle and Robert Wood Johnson CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey. More unexpected STEM degree-holders include Merkel (Ph.D. in chemistry), Dupont CEO Ellen Kullman (mechanical engineering), Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi (computer science) and Judith Faulkner (mathematics).

Climbing the rungs to power: Patience pays. Mary Barra began her career with GM in 1980 as a General Motors Institute (Kettering University) student. Rometty started at IBM at age 24 as a systems engineer. Petrobras CEO Maria das Gracas Silva Foster clocked in 30 years at the Brazilian oil and gas behemoth. New head of State Bank of India Arundhati Bhattacharya began at the country's largest lender in 1977.

It pays to play: The team spirit, ability to think on your feet and competitive drive of sports pays off in business. PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi played cricket in her native India. Mondelez CEO Irene Rosenfeld played four varsity sports in high school and college basketball at Cornell University. HP CEO Meg Whitman was a Princeton University squash and lacrosse player, while Beth Brooke-Marciniak played Division 1 college basketball at Purdue University, the first woman to receive a basketball scholarship at the college. Marvell cofounder Weili Dai put in five years playing semi-pro basketball in China.

[More from Forbes: Newcomers To The List Of The World’s Most Powerful Women]

The new celebrity role models: Sure, they’re famous but they deserve special attention outside their day job, be it ambassadors for meaningful causes or as business owners. Oprah founded both Harpo Productions and The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. Joining the efforts of the U.N. are Angelina Jolie, Shakira and Gisele Bundchen. Newcomer Yao Chen was recently named the Refugee Agency's Goodwill Ambassador in China, largely due to her macro-reach in social media. Beyonce rightfully earned the title of Queen Bey, ruling the music, pop culture and fashion industries, and Sofia Vergara is more than the highest-paid TV actress. As cofounder of Hispanic entertainment and media power player LatinWE, her company pulled in an estimated $27 million last year.

Businesswomen are booming in Asia: The whole region makes a strong showing, from China and Singapore to New Zealand and Thailand. Entrepreneurship is on the rise: see Zhang Xin (No. 50) , Sun Yafang (No. 77) and Solina Chau (No. 80). And Asian region women are showing their political might, from newcomer Park Geun-hye, the South Korean president (No. 11) and Burmese dissident and parliamentarian Aung San Suu Kyi (No. 29) to Australian PM Julia Gillard (No. 28) and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (No. 31).

Healing, feeding and educating the world: If they’re not topping corporations or state, the women on our list are heads of major nonprofits and NGOs and they wield as large budgets and impact millions, from Gates, Laurene Powell Jobs and Bloomberg's Harris to Director-General of World Health Organization Margaret Chan (No. 33), World Food Programme Executive Director Ertharin Cousin and Harvard's Faust. This year Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg joined The Giving Pledge.

Same face, new job: Last year Mary Barra was a SVP at GM and today she is CEO, the first woman in the job. She lands at No. 7 and is the most powerful woman in corporate America. Google's Wojcicki also saw a promotion this past year, moving from SVP to CEO of YouTube. Angela Ahrendts changed companies and sectors altogether, shifting from CEO of fashion trendsetter Burberry to a brand new position at Apple, SVP of retail and online stores.

Back on the job: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet was re-elected to office after having previously served from 2006 - 2010. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, two-term finance minister of Nigeria, held the same position in 2006. In May Nasdaq re-hired Adena Friedman as co-president after a stint as CFO of the Carlyle Group.

Returnees: Returning to the list after dropping are recently re-elected Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina Wajed and art world powerhouse Sheikha Al-Mayassa Bint Hamad Al-Thani.

1. Angela Merkel

Fresh off a sweeping reelection last fall, Chancellor Merkel made headlines when she accused the U.S. National Security Agency of tapping her cell phone. Her accusations, along with revelations that the NSA may have been surveilling her since 2002, led to a White House order that the nation's data privacy protections be extended to non-Americans. Despite this tension, she has continued to be a crucial ally to the U.S. on global issues such as the situation in Ukraine. The world's most powerful woman for nine of the past 10 years, Merkel broke through the ranks of Germany's male-dominated politics to become the first woman to serve as Chancellor, a position she has held since 2005. The first political star from the former East Germany since reunification, she is the backbone and an original architect of the 28-member European Union with a GDP of $15.8 trillion.

2. Janet Yellen

The world watched the historic passing of the Fed Reserve baton from two-term chief Ben Bernanke to Janet Yellen this February. She is the first woman to head the most influential central bank in the world, given the size of the Fed's balance sheet ($4 trillion) relative to the U.S. GDP ($16.7 trillion). Top on her to-do list: maximize employment. "Too many Americans still can't find a job and worry how they'll pay their bills and provide for their families," she said at her White House nomination. "The Federal Reserve can help if it does its job effectively." Once the job market strengthens, it's likely Yellen will keep rates unusually low to support a still-subpar economy.

3. Melinda Gates

Melinda Gates has cemented her dominance in philanthropy and global development to the tune of $3.4 billion in giving 2012 (most recent data available) and more than $26 billion in grant commitments since she founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with her husband in 1998. Her work has inspired other big donors and has changed way funders think about effective philanthropy: highly targeted campaigns coupled with data-driven monitoring and global collaboration. As the woman with her name on the door, Gates decides the direction of the organization and reviews the results. Much of her attention is now focused on the reproductive health of women in developing countries. A part of the foundation's mission is to provide access to contraceptive information and services to 120 million women in the poorest countries by 2020.

4. Dilma Rousseff

One of the world's most powerful heads of state, Rousseff is more than halfway through her term as president of Brazil, the world's seventh-largest national economy with a GDP of nearly $2.4 trillion. The country is hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016. Rousseff criticized the U.S. for spying during her opening speech at the UN General Assembly this fall and cancelled a state visit over reports that the National Security Agency was intercepting her emails.

5. Christine Lagarde

The first woman to run the 188-country financial organization has spent much of her first three years in crisis mode, most recently dealing with escalating tensions in Ukraine and approving a $17 billion loan for the country in April. She is a powerful advocate for women in the workforce, and last year commissioned an IMF report on the topic: "All economies have savings and productivity gains if women have access to the job market. It's not just a moral, philosophical or equal-opportunity matter. It's also an economic cause. It's a no-brainer." French-born Lagarde was a labor and antitrust attorney in the U.S. before a six-year stint as French finance minister. In May she canceled plans to deliver the Smith College commencement address after protests by students and faculty over the IMF's policies.

6. Hillary Clinton

She hasn't even announced a presidential bid and already she has the Ready for Hillary super PAC (raising $1.7 million in Q1 2014 alone) and her opposition is heating up in equal measure. There is no denying that Hillary is a fierce political force to be reckoned with. And should she be the first woman president of the U.S. come 2016, it would not be her first foray into breaking barriers. She is the first and only first lady to become a U.S. Senator, not to mention presidential candidate. Her upcoming memoir, "Hard Choices," which chronicles her time as Secretary of State, reportedly earned her a high-seven-figure advance. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that 57% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Hillary?including nearly a quarter of the Republicans polled. Of the Democrats and independents polled, more than half said they would vote for her in the party's primary elections, compared with 10% for Vice President Joe Biden.

7. Mary Barra

The celebration of the first woman ever to head a Big 8 automaker and the largest seller in the U.S. market ended soon after the champagne popped. Mary Barra took the reins of GM in January and in April was summoned to Congress to answer for faulty ignition switches linked to 13 deaths, saying "I am deeply sorry." But the 33-year veteran, who began at the company at 18 while working toward an electrical engineering degree, remained poised and confident under fire. Her leadership, she said, will bring about a "new GM" able to regain customer trust. Too soon to call, but the Detroit automaker announced sales were up 7% in April year-over-year. Expect at least 14 new or updated models to roll out this year.

8. Michelle Obama

She may not carry the hard power of her husband but there's arguably no one who makes better use of the world stage. The Harvard grad and former corporate attorney (she was Barack Obama's boss) actively uses her platform as first lady to fight childhood obesity and promote healthier eating and lifestyles. With approval ratings at 66%, she's more popular than her husband by far (44%) -- likely because she spends more time laughing on TV than running the country. In 2013, Obama announced the Academy Award for Best Picture, mocked mom-danced with Jimmy Fallon (18 million views on YouTube) and launched an initiative aimed at increasing the number of low-income students who go to college. This year she's been extremely visible globally, taking a trip to China in March, where she met with her Chinese counterpart and fellow Power Woman Peng Liyuan.

9. Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg clearly knows how to command attention: The Facebook COO's 2013 bestselling book "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead" won famous fans (including fellow Power Women Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer and Beyonce), spawned thousands of Lean In Circles, inspired a spin-off ("Lean In for Graduates," published in 2014) and a Sony Pictures movie deal. With a net worth just shy of a billionaire, Sandberg still works a day job at the social media giant, which has a $160 billion market value. Under Sandberg's leadership, Facebook has improved its earnings performances and revamped its mobile strategy. In May Sandberg joined The Giving Pledge.

10. Virginia Rometty

Two years have passed since Rometty assumed the helm at IBM, and it's been anything but smooth sailing. Thanks in part to declining growth in its hardware business, IBM saw a 5% revenue decline in 2013 to $99.8 billion. Still, that's bigger than Google. Rometty also earned kudos when she passed on an annual bonus. It's that kind of leadership propelled Rometty's rise up the ranks of the technology company, where she first began working at 24 in 1981 as a systems engineer.

More from Forbes: