Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women 2011: British Women Make In-Roads

Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women 2011: British Women Make In-Roads

British women have managed to squeeze their way into the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women list this year - but only with a handful of entries. The list, which came out on Wednesday, revealed the female movers and shakers from around the world.

The candidates were chosen for the breadth of their influence, as well as their wealth and their media presence.

Last year only saw one solitary British entry - Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen managed to maintain her position as the most powerful British woman, and 49th in the world. But creeping up behind her to steal the crown this year were Helen Boaden, the Director of the BBC group at number 51 and billionnaire authoress JK Rowling ranking 61st.

There were only seven British entries altogether, including foreign nationals who work in Britain, such as Cynthia Carroll, the CEO of Anglo American and Ana Patricia Botin, CEO of Santander UK.

The list also highlighted the worrying scarcity of British female CEOs. Maxine Benson MBE, co-founder of everywoman, an organisation that aims to raise women's status in the economic community, said:

“The list demonstrates women are doing well in the world of commerce but it is disturbing to see so few British business women making the cut. It raises some serious questions for UK plc and the health of its female talent pipeline.

“The Equalities and Human Rights Commission Sex & Power 2011 report published last week showed that women are still not gaining the most powerful posts in the UK. British women must be ambitious for themselves and for their sex because its clear that change at the top is not happening fast enough.”

There have been calls from many quarters for a greater female presence at the highest levels of business. Because of their emotional intelligence, women are thought to bring diplomacy and understanding to the workplace. The Dalai Lama, on his visit to US President Barack Obama last year, joined the chorus for more women to be offered top management roles because they are “more sensitive to suffering”.

One leadership expert, Niamh O'Keeffe, believes that promoting more high-powered women would make the world a better place all round. O’Keeffe, who advises CEOs in the UK and US, has come to the conclusion that women have a 'bigger picture' attitude to their roles, aware of the greater good they can do - while male CEOs tend to be focused on narrow quarterly performance targets.

She believes companies are missing out on legacy projects that: "could combine their commercial interests with improving world literacy rates, tackling poverty, improving water supplies, combating climate change or creating a new generation of business leaders at home and abroad".

Having greater numbers of female CEOs would also help to address the gender pay gap overall in companies, as they tend to bring in other women with them. Female executives in women-led companies earn 10-20 per cent more than female executives in male-led companies.

Internationally, stateswomen, CEOs and cultural icons made up the majority of female power-brokers in the Forbes list, with a few heiresses and high-profile wives taking other top spots.

Celebrity entertainers received bonus points for harnessing their fame for humanitarian, or canny commercial moves. Lady Gaga came in at number 11 for helping to raise $200m to fight HIV, while Angelina Jolie retained influence as a UN ambassador, despite making fewer films that in previous years.

Angela Merkel took first place overall, as one of the eight heads of state included. Merkel took prime position as German chancellor, but mainly in her pivotal leadership of the EU. She knocked President Obama's wife, Michelle, off pole position from last year. Hillary Clinton came in at a close second to Merkel, after the vital role she has played as the US Secretary of State.

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