This year’s list of World’s Most Powerful Women is a collection of innovators and instigators who are leading on the world stage to redefine traditional power structures and forge lasting impact in every industry and sphere of influence. They’re using their power and their platforms to scale global business, solve the world’s most intractable issues, transform cultural narratives and make significant strides toward advancing equality. Their accomplishments are formidable on their own, and even more so given how difficult it can be to establish inroads into industries and job titles long-dominated by men, especially in tech, defense, venture capital, and Hollywood.
Over the past ten years, the ability to create influence and power has evolved – and this is especially true for women. We’ve witnessed an unprecedented groundswell of momentum that’s upended traditional power structures and ignited a global reckoning around gender inequities. Social media continues to break down traditional barriers to power. Leaders are now paying their power forward, with the advancement of gender equity at the forefront, rather than a footnote, of their efforts.
As we come to the close of the current decade, how has women’s power advanced over the past ten years? Where have we seen the biggest strides made? And where is the most work still be done?
More Women On The Path To Political Power
In 2010, Forbes Most Powerful Women’s list saw Angela Merkel (#1 in 2019) landing in the top ten for her fifth consecutive year with fellow listees including Australian Prime Minister Julia Guillard and a new generation of female leaders emerging in Latin America, including Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, Costa Rica’s Laura Chinchilla Miranda and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina. This political snapshot set a now unmet expectation that the trendline of women holding the highest political positions on the global stage would only accelerate.
Most notably, women helm the EU’s most powerful institutions (and take the second and fourth spot on this year’s list) at one of the most defining and precarious moments in the bloc’s history with European Central Bank head Christine Lagarde (#2) and Ursula von der Leyen (#4), President of the European Commission, recently taking their posts. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (#3) returns to the list in the number three spot as the highest-ranking and most powerful female-elected official in American history, currently architecting the country’s fourth-ever impeachment proceedings. Regional and national figures continue to play major roles in their own countries and on the world stage with notable newcomers this year including IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva (#15) and India’s finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman (#34).
She’s Not The First: The New Class Of CEOs
Across the decade, women’s lists have been heavily dominated by “firsts.” First woman CEO of a S&P 500 company, first self-made female billionaire or first to helm an industry, and our 2010 list was evidence of this with less than a third of the listees holding c-suite titles.
Female firsts continue to make headlines on the 2019 ranking but the bigger takeaway is that packs have emerged. Three leaders now dominate the defense industry, women helm the world’s two largest stock exchanges, and leading within the pharmaceutical industry are the world’s 4th largest drugmaker and India’s largest biopharma company. What’s more, the list now boasts seven self-made billionaires and seventeen women changing the face of tech.
Rewriting The Cultural Narrative
In 2019, being one of the world’s most powerful celebrities means more than being an influencer or icon. It means using your cultural capital to champion meaningful causes, build mega-businesses, and change the face of an industry.
Both making their list debut in 2019, Rihanna (#61) and Reese Witherspoon (#90), are a testament to the new power celebrities are wielding across multiple spheres. Rihanna has emerged as a mogul in the making, known as much for her music as her cultural cache, having disrupted music, fashion and beauty with her Fenty empire, which generated an estimated $600 million in revenue in 2017 after less than two years in business. Witherspoon too has leveraged her star power into new arenas having flipped the script in Hollywood. She’s become a force for female storytelling through the launch of her own production and media companies and defines the multi-hyphenate job title for entertainment industry leaders of the next decade.
Across the lot, women are seeing their power grow in the studio landscape. As calls have gotten louder for greater representation in front of and behind the camera, a rising number of women are now uniquely positioned to drive and recast cultural narratives. From Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke (#48) with a war chest of $4.5 billion to turn the streaming giant into a storytelling powerhouse to Ava DuVernay (#79) who is pioneering a movement of inclusion to spotlight those traditionally overlooked, women on this year’s list are amplifying diverse voices and cementing their place at the forefront of storytelling. In a landscape forever changed by #MeToo, gender parity onscreen and behind the camera remains elusive but it is finally taking center stage in the entertainment industry and beyond.
Paying Power Forward
Across the board, power today is being won and wielded more in terms of impact and responsibility than ever before. In 2010, Melinda Gates (#6), alongside husband Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, formally announced The Giving Pledge, and in the decade since she’s become the world’s most powerful advocate for women and girls and is holding world leaders accountable to do the same.
Advancing opportunities for women has emerged as a throughline across the 2019 list. The first female head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen (#4), committed increasing gender representation in the Commission where women have been woefully absent. Cowboy Ventures’ Aileen Lee (#92), the VC who coined the term “unicorn,” is empowering more female venture partners to write checks and lead deals as a founding member of All Raise. Serena Williams (#81) has taken her power off the court to champion issues from sexism in sports to maternal health. Ginni Rometty (#9), a 38-year veteran of tech giant IBM is spearheading policies to keep women in the workforce that include extended parental leave, a breastmilk delivery program and returnships. Across every industry and mantle of power, achieving the path to parity has never been prominent in the ways that leaders are wielding their influence.
As we look back on the past decade, women’s progress may be calculated more in steps versus monumental strides but momentum is building that ultimately will transform the face of power in the decade ahead and for generations to come.
Photo Source: Forbes