Janet Yellen, nominated as chairman of the US Federal Reserve
Yellen will be the first woman to head the mighty US Federal Reserve if she takes over at the central bank in January. Her job will be to maintain the stuttering recovery of the world's largest economy. Yellen is an expert on the causes and impact of unemployment and is regarded as an economic "dove" who will stick with current chairman Ben Bernanke's massive support programme for the economy. Yellen first joined the Fed in 1977 but left in 1978 to lecture at the London School of Economics with her Nobel-winning economist husband George Akerlof. She has straddled academia and public office since and advised Bill Clinton for two years of his presidency. Her appointment as the Fed's vice chairwoman in 2010 set her up to succeed Bernanke.
Indra Nooyi, chair and chief executive of PepsiCo
Nooyi has proved herself a tough operator leading PepsiCo – the world's second biggest food and drinks business – for the last seven years. Two years ago there was pressure for her to stand down but she held on and increased sales. In July, she faced down activist investor Nelson Peltz, who was applying pressure for Pepsi to split its drinks business off from the more successful snacks arm. Nooyi, 57, was born and educated in India. After various strategy and consulting jobs, and postgraduate study at Yale, she joined Pepsi in 1994, aged 29. By 2001 she was chief financial officer, running the group's strategy and overseeing purchases of Tropicana and Quaker Oats Co on her way to the top job.
Gina Rinehart, mining magnate
Gina Rinehart's $17bn fortune appreciates by about $1bn every year, which makes her Australia's richest person and one of the wealthiest women in the world. Still, last year she felt able to urge Australians to work for $2 a day. She has also made the news as a result of a legal battle with three of her four children, who she cut out of the family trust. Rinehart, 59, left the University of Sydney after a year after finding a leftwing economics lecturer and fellow students not to her taste. Instead, she returned to her native Perth to work at Hancock Prospecting, the mining business owned by her father, Lang. Despite hitting the headlines, Rinehart has generally shunned the press, yet she has bought stakes in media businesses Channel 10 and Fairfax.
Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil
Hardly a household name – even in Brazil – for much of her career, Dilma Rousseff, a career civil servant who had never so much as run for elected office, has become the first woman president of the world's sixth-largest economy in 2011. A former 1960s revolutionary who spent three years in jail and was reportedly tortured, she joined President Lula da Silva's government in 2003 as energy minister and two years later was made his chief of staff (during her election campaign, Lula helpfully dubbed her "mother of the nation"). Brusque and short-tempered, the 66-year-old is known to favour a strong state presence in key areas including oil, energy and banking . She has also pledged to fight corruption and invest more in transport, health and education following mass street protests earlier this year that revealed how Brazil's boom has failed to improve the lives of many ordinary citizens. She is not afraid to take on the big guns, either, berating the US at the United Nations and postponing a visit to Washington over the recent NSA spying revelations.
Christine Lagarde, managing director, IMF
After the downfall of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, in 2011 Lagarde became the first woman to head the International Monetary Fund. She was plunged straight into fighting the eurozone's sovereign debt crisis. Lagarde, 57, was a labour and competition lawyer at Baker & McKenzie for more than 20 years, rising to become the firm's first female chairman. After a spell as French trade minister she became the first woman to head France's economic ministry. Lagarde was elected as a safe pair of hands at the IMF but caused outrage when she told the Guardian that Greek citizens were going through payback time for not paying their taxes. A run at the French presidency could be next.
Hillary Clinton, politician
"Wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate," begins Hillary Rodham Clinton's Twitter profile, before continuing: "FLOAR [First Lady of Arkansas], FLOTUS [First Lady of the United States], Senator, SecState, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker" and concluding, coyly, "TBD …" [To Be Determined]. It's the last bit that everyone is interested in: will the 56-year-old, Yale-educated lawyer be the Democrats' 2016 presidential candidate? Clinton, who in 2008 won more primaries and delegates than any other woman candidate in US history, has said only that she will start thinking about it "some time next year". Polls suggest that if she does run, 65% of Democrats would vote for her and she would beat the two current Republican frontrunners to become the first woman president of the US. In the meantime, now a fully private citizen for the first time in 30 years, she says she is mostly at home with husband Bill "laughing at our dogs, watching stupid movies, taking long walks." Of course.
Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany
One of only two EU leaders to have survived the economic crisis, Angela Merkel is on course to become Europe's longest-serving elected female head of government after romping home for the third time as Germany's chancellor last month. A quantum physicist by training, the 59-year-old has little style, less charisma, no apparent ideology and a marked aversion to risk in all its forms: her job, she has said, is "to advance, even if only by a few centimetres, and solve problems". But behind her motherly aura (not for nothing do Germans call her "Mutti") and solid stewardship of Europe's largest economy in a time of crisis is a ruthless politician who has seen off all challengers within her own CDU party and consistently outmanoeuvred the opposition. Merkel dodges confrontation, never shows her hand, and always wins.
Melinda Gates, co-chair, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
As co-chair of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda Gates and her husband Bill – the richest man in the world – hold the purse strings to an endowment of $38.3bn. The foundation is best known for its work fighting diseases, including malaria and polio, and for speaking out on sensitive subjects, such as birth control, a tricky topic given Gates' own Catholic faith. Having studied for a BA and an MBA at Duke University, Gates joined Microsoft as a product developer in 1987. She met Bill the same year, married him in 1994 and left the company in 1996 to raise the couple's three children, before becoming increasingly involved with philanthropy. Though the family's public mission to save the world is not without controversy, Gates herself is widely regarded as a thoughtful campaigner who works methodically to drive change without seeking the limelight.
Park Geun-hye, president of South Korea
The daughter of the strongman who ruled South Korea for much of the 1960s and 1970s, Park Geun-hye was inaugurated as the east Asian powerhouse's first woman president in February. Five times an MP, the 60-year old conservative had earlier served as her father Park Chung-hee's de facto first lady after her mother, Yuk Young-soo, was killed by a sniper's bullet intended for the president (who was himself killed five years later by his own intelligence chief in 1979). Gracious but tough (she once continued campaigning after requiring 60 stitches following a knife attack), Park, who has devoted herself to her father's legacy and never married, says one of her key priorities will be repairing the country's vitally important relations with North Korea. Some are optimistic for the cause of women following Park's election in a country which, despite its advanced economy, ranks only 108 out of 135 for gender equality. Others fear she is merely the latest in a line of prominent Asian daughters and widows of powerful fathers or husbands.
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer, Facebook
Sandberg divided opinion earlier this year with Lean In, her book of advice for women in business. Some criticised her for patronising readers but it sold 150,000 copies in its first week. Sandberg, 44, negotiated a stake in Facebook and became the first woman on the company's board when she joined four years ago from Google. Since Facebook's flotation last year she has been worth about $400m. Sandberg's contacts span business and politics – she was chief of staff to US Treasury secretary Larry Summers from 1996 to 2001. But she hasn't always been so ambitious. After graduating from Harvard she moved to Washington DC to find an eligible husband, married at 24 and divorced a year later. "Pretty shocking," she told the Guardian.
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