For the fourth year in a row, German Chancellor Angela Merkel tops Forbes' annual Most Powerful Women list. In ranking female leaders who combine visibility, economic impact, and career accomplishments, Forbes' tendency to put Merkel at the top acknowledges her management of the world's fourth-largest economy. And it's no surprise to see First Lady Michelle Obama in the no. 40 slot -- ahead of Oprah Winfrey, Queen Elizabeth, and Philippines President Gloria Arroyo.
What may be surprising, though, is that American women dominated the list, filling more than 60 of the 100 slots. While Forbes is, of course, an American publication, that presence on the list also suggests that the U.S. is leading the world on women's issues by example. No doubt it's encouraging to see the rising number of women in power positions in general, but it's important to remember they are still greatly underrepresented.
For example, unlike many Western and developing nations, the U.S. has not elected a female president. Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., is ranked No. 2 -- the most influential American woman in the world, according to Forbes.
Another surprise is the dominance of businesswomen on the list. Only some 20 political figures -- prime ministers, presidents, and ministers -- placed among the 100 most powerful women. Two judges, five organization heads, two queens, and the First Lady -- and the rest, about 70 people, are businesswomen. Just after Merkel, who overhauled the German health and tax systems and steered Germany out the recession earlier than anticipated, and Bair, who has overseen the orderly takeover of 77 failed banks this, come PepsiCo (PEP) CEO Indra Nooyi; Cynthia Carroll, CEO of mining giant Anglo American (AAUKY); and Ho Ching, CEO of Singapore's government investment company Temasek Holdings.
Are these businesswomen truly more powerful than, say, Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez -- no. 11, just afterSunoco (SUN) CEO Lynn Elsenhans? Or Chile's president, Michelle Bachelet -- no. 22, several slots lower than Rite Aid Corp. (RAD) CEO Mary Sammons? And does Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, no. 36, really wield less power than Sara Lee Corp. (SLE) CEO Brenda Barnes? I'm not sure what it says about our own priorities, if CEOs are more powerful than heads of state.
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