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The world's 20 most powerful women in 2017

Forbes logo Forbes 11/1/2017 Caroline Howard

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Last year was a tough one for women. It seemed like the we were on the verge of electing a woman as the most powerful person on the planet. Of course that’s not the way it worked out. Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss in the 2016 U.S. presidential election left many women feeling untethered (and pushed Clinton down 63 spots on our list from No. 2 in 2016 to 65 this year).

So who runs the world in 2017? German Chancellor Angela Merkel retains the top spot on this year’s class of female leaders — for the seventh consecutive year and 12 times in total. She’s followed by an unexpected newcomer, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May (No. 2), who is leading her country through Brexit, a historic, complex and transformative time for the country and the European Union. May is followed by Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who, along with her husband Bill, has distributed more than $40 billion in grants to date and supports organizations in over 100 countries. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (No. 4) and GM CEO Mary Barra (No. 5) round out the top five. 

Forbes’ 2017 list of the world’s most powerful women shows that while there is still work to be done, we shouldn’t focus only on the setbacks. That’s because many members of this year’s list represent a changing of the guard that may lead to extraordinary global gains in the near future.

This year’s list, ranked by dollars controlled, impact, spheres of influence and media presence — boasts 23 newcomers, a record for the Forbes Power Women list, with new women stepping in to power in politics, technology, business and media.

Click through the gallery below to see the top 20 women in power:

The World's Most Powerful Women 2017: <p>Commanding, creative, changing lives.</p> 2017 Power Women: Top 20

More on Forbes.com: The complete list of the world’s 100 most powerful women

In the No. 19 spot, Ivanka Trump is the second-highest ranked newcomer. Her stepmother Melania has mostly abdicated the first-lady spotlight (and doesn’t appear on this year’s list) but Ivanka has become a key player in the Donald Trump White House. And while her father might not always heed her advice, she is targeting policy areas such as paid family leave, promotion of women in science and female entrepreneurship.

In France last year, Isabel Kocher (No. 24) took over the reins at Engie, the world’s largest non-state-owned electricity company. She’s leading the company out of coal and into renewable energy including through the purchase of EV-Box, a Netherlands company with more than 40,000 charging stations for electric cars.

In finance, women like newcomer Kathryn Petralia (No. 98) are leading the charge into fintech and in media, women like Kathleen Kennedy (No. 77) are showing that women can run the show when it comes to the world’s biggest movie franchise, "Star Wars." When there were disagreements over the direction of the upcoming Han Solo prequel film, she fired directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller.

As with every year, four metrics were used: money (either net worth, company revenues, assets, or GDP); media presence; spheres of influence; and impact, analyzed both within the context of each woman’s field (media, technology, business, philanthropy/NGOs, politics, and finance) and outside of it.

This year’s list features 48 women from the U.S. and several newcomers from other nations. Estonian president Kersti Kaljulaid joins the list in the No. 78 spot. With only 1.2 million people, her country may be tiny but it’s leading a digital revolution where robots make regular deliveries and people can vote for elected officials online. In Norway, Erna Solberg (No. 46), dubbed the Angela Merkel of Norway, had led her oil-producing country (with its $1 trillion state piggy bank) through a slump and is now laying the groundwork for economic expansion.

In China, women continue to lead the entrepreneurial revolution. A report from the Chinese government claims that 55% of new internet businesses are being started by women. Jean Liu (no. 40) beat Uber’s Travis Kalanick at his own game when her Didi Chuxing bested Uber for the lucrative Chinese rideshare market. Uber sold its Chinese operations to Liu in exchange for a 10% stake in her company.

While they may still be in the minority when it comes to leadership, the women on our list are making real changes. That should give everyone hope for the coming year.

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