Did you feel the world move? Power shifted across the globe this year as women cracked new ceilings and tumbled from positions of power. We’ve seen a new class of disruptive leaders breaking through to join the list. But we also see a number of women at the top whose power is being challenged or who are stepping down. The middle is where it gets interesting. Women are making strides and charting the course to break out and storm the corner office, or their own office, in greater ranks.
At no time has more light been shone on women leaders and the need for more diversity. From #MeToo to #TimesUp to ‘We Too’, a term most recently used to describe the rise of women’s voices in the United Nations this year, women are mobilizing for change. The women on Forbes 15th annual Most Powerful Women list are among the toughest, smartest leaders the world has today. They are creating solutions for some of the world’s biggest problems and making their mark.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel retains the top spot on the list for the 8th year in a row. While she recently stepped down as head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and is not running for reelection in 2021, her leadership of Europe’s largest economy makes her the defacto female leader of the free world. While the next three years will be marked with uncertainty, she may well be less a lame duck than a leader determined to leave a legacy. With her future decided, she can focus the tenacity she exhibited in navigating economic and political turmoil on healing the rifts and creating a more integrated EU.
May inherited the Brexit turmoil from former Prime Minister David Cameron when he resigned after the UK’s referendum to leave the EU was decided. She has tirelessly spent the past two years negotiating the exit, facing pushback from both pro and anti-European factions in her own party and the opposition. With her plan to exit the EU approved by European leaders, the history-making move is one step closer to reality. She is now working to gain the approval of Parliament, pledging to fight for a unified Britain and in her own words “a Brexit that delivers on the result of the referendum.”
Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), takes third place on the list, rising from eight last year as a stabilizing force advocating for reducing global trade conflicts. Rounding out the top five are GM CEO Mary Barra (No.4) and Fidelity Chairman and CEO Abigail Johnson (No. 5).
In notable departures, we see Hillary Clinton (No. 65 in 2017) off the list. While her stunning loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election spurred a rise in women running for office, without an active political role or book tour to keep her in the political conversation, she lost her spot this year. Nikki Haley (No. 42 in 2017), Trump’s departing Ambassador to the U.N. also lost her spot, leaving a gap in political leaders in the U.S. despite the record 110 female officials elected to Congress in the November 2018 mid-term elections.
In a dramatic political fall, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi (No. 33 in 2017) was knocked off the list. With her unfathomable support of the Rohingya Muslim refugee crisis, she has lost the respect and support of global leaders.
At the same time, there are bright spots with significant appointments of women leaders in conservative countries, sending a message that it’s time to take gender equality seriously. This movement brings newcomers Ana Brnabic (No. 91), the first female and first openly gay Prime Minister of Serbia and Zewde Sahle-Work (No. 97) the first female president of Ethiopia to the list. Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern continues to be a fresh voice, advocating for families and normalizing working parenthood by bringing her daughter and stay-at-home partner to the UN General Assembly.
Women now represent close to 20% of presidential, government minister and parliamentary seats worldwide. Clearly, there is still a way to go to reach representation, but this ratio is better than the 5% of CEO seats that are held by women.
PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi (No. 11 in 2017) stepped down in October after 12 years leading the company, dropping her off the list. Meg Whitman exited as CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprises in February. Both CEOs were replaced by men, adding to the void of females at the helm of global corporations. But in an entrepreneurial reboot, Whitman joined Jeffrey Katzenburg’s new mobile video startup Quibi as CEO in March, keeping her on the list at No. 80.
Gail Boudreaux (No. 12) is stepping up as the highest-ranking newcomer to join the 2018 list. Since being named CEO of Anthem in 2017, the nation’s second-largest health insurer has completed acquisitions of America’s 1st Choice, HealthSun, and Aspire Health. Boudreaux is another story of returning to power as she on the list years prior as president of UnitedHealthcare.
Helping to fill the gap left by high profile CEO departures is an impressive class of financial leaders who are primed for a big future. Joining Fidelity’s Johnson on the list are two JPMorgan powerhouses; Mary Callahan Erdoes (No. 33), CEO of Asset Management, and JP Morgan CFO Marianne Lake (No. 38). Both are potential contenders for CEO Jamie Dimon’s chief executive seat. CEO of Samba Financial Group Rania Nasher (No. 95) joins the list as the first female CEO of Saudi commercial bank.
Aerospace and defense dynamo Marillyn Hewson (No. 9) breaks into the top ten this year with her innovative leadership at Lockheed Martin. In 2017, the company pulled in $51 billion in sales, nearly 70% from the U.S. government, positioning it well for growth as Trump pushes for increased military spending.
Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg (No. 11) dropped out of the top ten this year as Facebook faces mounting criticism over how it’s handled election interference and reports of her alleged involvement in a plan to discredit George Soros. The company and Sandberg’s lack of transparency comes at a time when other tech leaders are addressing data privacy more publicly. However, the reaction to her alleged tactics uncover another double standard, whereby women leaders are expected to exhibit only the soft skills associated with leadership.
Making inroads in the still bro-heavy world of tech are a number of strong C-suite chiefs. Microsoft CFO Amy Hood (No. 28) has helped engineer 57 deals while at Microsoft. Belinda Johnson (No. 69) rose 27 spots on the list this year with her promotion to COO. She is now managing the growth of the $31 billion dollar travel platform which is prepping for its expected 2019 IPO. Newcomer, Anne Wojcicki (No. 92), cofounder and CEO of biotech startup 23andme joins her sister Susan Wojcicki (No. 7), CEO of YouTube, making it the first time two sister CEOs have graced the list.
Investors are increasingly being recognized for fueling the tech ecosystem. Newcomer Kirsten Green, founder of Forerunner Ventures (No. 89), continues to change the VC landscape with her firm’s latest $360 million fund, one of the largest ever raised by a woman-founded firm. Solina Chau Hoi Shuen (No. 73) has multiple spheres of investing influence. As director of the Li Ka Shing Foundation she has invested billions in the Greater China region. She also cofounded Horizons Ventures in 2002 with a founding female partner. Horizons Ventures has been an early investor in tech startups ranging from Facebook to Waze.
A number of women moving up or coming onto the list for the first time are creating their own rules of power. Take Taylor Swift (No. 68) and the youngest woman on the list at 28 years old. With her new record deal, Swift is redefining the way musicians are paid both for herself, and others behind her. Shonda Rhimes, a first-timer at No. 74 took Shondaland, her blockbuster Thursday night lineup on ABC to Netflix, making history as one of the first showrunners to ink an eight-figure, exclusive deal with the streaming service. Serena Williams swept onto the list at No. 79. After winning her 23rd Grand Slam title last year while pregnant, she came back strong in 2018, calling out the tennis industry for their double standards in rulings and dress codes. With these women rounding out the list we are looking forward to more power moves ahead.
Four metrics are used each year: money (either net worth, company revenues, assets, or GDP); media presence; spheres of influence; and impact, analyzed both within the context of each woman’s field (media, technology, business, philanthropy/NGOs, politics, and finance) and outside of it. This year, with the help of social insight platform Captiv8, we included social media power in our media presence and influence score
The women on Forbes 15th annual Most Powerful Women list represent female leadership across six categories: business leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, scientists, philanthropists and CEOs. 29 countries are represented, including 4 new countries (Netherlands, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Serbia). There are 13 world leaders and one monarch, Queen Elizabeth (No. 26), who is also the oldest woman on the list. 20 percent of the list is comprised of newcomers. There are 13 founders, 26 CEOs (five of which are also founders), five CFOs and three COOs. They wield influence over more than a billion people around the world and control or influence nearly $2 trillion in revenues.