World Economy

The world’s most powerful women are …

Leslie Shaffer | Writer for
What it takes to be Forbes' most powerful woman

Forbes has "leaned in," releasing its annual list of the world's 100 most powerful women, looking largely outside the corporate C-suite for its power players.

"We've taken a much more expansive, dynamic look at power, not just traditional power roles such as running a corporation or head of state, but also creative dynamic power," Moira Forbes, president and publisher of ForbesWoman, told CNBC.

"Money is always important to look at because it is a form of influence particularly when you're looking at the size of a global business, the impact it has, the size of an economy," Forbes said. "But also we looked at things like social influence."

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She cited Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook, ranked ninth on the list, as an example, noting Sandberg is a business leader, self-made billionaire and uses her influence to drive dialogues on women in leadership through her "lean in" campaign.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Thierry Charlier | AFP | Getty Images

"This is someone who not only has huge power in the business arena, changing the face of connectivity as we know it, but someone who's also shaping the agenda and driving conversations on critical issues for women," Forbes said. "That is power and that is using it across multiple spheres."

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Only three of the top-10 come from the corporate world, likely a side effect of the few female leaders at the largest companies, but the 28 corporate CEOs on the list control around $1.7 trillion in annual revenue and 18 founded their own companies or foundations.

Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, topped the list, her 10th appearance since the list was created 11 years ago. The second spot went to Janet Yellen, the chief of the U.S. Federal Reserve, in her inaugural appearance on the list.

Melinda Gates, the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dilma Rouseff, the president of Brazil, and Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, round out the top five spots, according to Forbes.

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Among women who have made the list every year, Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. senator, former U.S. Secretary of State, former First Lady and likely presidential candidate, took the number six spot.

Within Asia, Ho Ching, the CEO of Singapore's sovereign wealth fund Temasek, which has around $170 billion under management, moved up to number 59 from 64 last year. She's been on the list every year since its founding.

The list also includes some less obvious players, such as list newcomer Yao Chen, a Chinese actress, who ranked at 83.

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"She's someone who reflects a new dynamic of power, with 51 million followers on Weibo, the largest social media following of any of our listees," Forbes said. "She's become a huge voice for human rights in a country like China. She's become the first U.N. refugee ambassador form the country. So she's leveraging that influence not just for her celebrity brand, but in a positive way to spotlight critical issues."

One high profile dropout from the list this year was Yingluck Shinawatra, who was removed from her post as the prime minister of Thailand shortly before a military coup. Yingluck is currently under house arrest and forbidden from leaving her country.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1