70 of the Most Inspirational Women Leaders Impacting the World in 2018
From driving change and innovation as world leaders and business tycoons to inspiring creativity and exploration as astronauts and award-winning artists, amazing women around the world make it their job to shake things up and push the boundaries of possibility every day.
It’s likely a few women who fit this description have popped up in your mind already as you read this (looking at you, Oprah, Angela Merkel, and Beyoncé). We’d all like to think we’re familiar with some of the most influential women on the planet, but do we really know who they are or, more importantly, where they got their start?
The latest report from Business.org explores the most influential women in the United States as well as some of the most amazing women inspiring change around the world. Our team spent weeks identifying some of the most accomplished women born in each US state then rounded out the report by finding amazing women in Africa, Australia, Asia, Europe, and North and South America as well. We were absolutely blown away at how powerful these women are, and we think you will be too!
There’s something to be said about how a person’s birthplace affects who they ultimately become. Ready to see which female powerhouse shares your home state or country?
Mia Hamm was born in Selma, Alabama. She played for the US Women’s Soccer team for 17 years and is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup Champion. She is also the founder of a nonprofit, national organization that raises funds and awareness for families in need of a marrow or cord blood transplant.
Irene Bedard is a Native American actress born in Anchorage, Alaska. She’s a Golden Globe award winner and is most well known for her role providing lead vocals in the Disney movie Pocahontas.
Gabrielle Giffords was born in Tuscon, Arizona, and is a retired member of the United States House of Representatives. An assassination attempt on her life was made during a public meeting with her constituents. Although shot in the head, she miraculously survived and has regained her ability to talk, walk, and resume many of her day-to-day activities.
Chelsea Clinton was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. She is vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, an organization that seeks to improve global health, create opportunities for women, and promote economic growth. She also serves on the board of the School of American Ballet and on IAC’s board of directors.
Jessica Alba was born in Pomoma, California. She is an award-winning actress and founder of the Honest Company, a consumer goods company that emphasizes household products to supply the marketplace for ethical consumerism. Her company is estimated to be worth $1.7 billion.
Melissa Benoist was born in Littleton, Colorado. She is a singer and actress who portrays a famed teenage superhero on the television series Supergirl.
Glenn Close was born in Greenwich, Connecticut. She is an actress who has won multiple Golden Globe Awards, Tony Awards, SAG Awards, and Emmy Awards. She was also honored with a GLAAD Media Award in 2002 for promoting equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
Delaware—Nancy J. Currie
Nancy J. Currie was born in Wilmington, Delaware. She is an engineer, United States Army officer, and NASA astronaut. She served in the US Army for 22 years and participated in four shuttle launch missions with NASA. Currie has earned multiple awards for her service including the NASA Exceptional Service medal in 2003 and two Defense Superior Service medals.
Sara Blakely was born in Clearwater, Florida. She is a billionaire businesswoman and founder of Spanx. She was listed as one of Forbes’ Most Powerful Women in 2016 and was named one of the publication’s Top Self-Made Women in America in 2017.
Sally Yates was born in Atlanta, Georgia. She formerly served as the United States attorney general. She made waves in her position for standing up for her values in the face of powerful opposition.
Bette Midler was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is a singer, songwriter, actress, comedian, and film producer who has won multiple Golden Globe Awards, Tony Awards, Emmy Awards, and Grammy Awards.
Lisa Davis was born in Idaho and currently serves as the chair and CEO of Siemens. Forbes named her the 9th Most Powerful Woman in the World in 2017.
Ginni Rometty was born in Chicago, Illinois. She is the chairmen, president, and CEO of IBM. She is the first woman to lead the company and was named Forbes’ 10th most powerful woman in the world in 2017.
Angela Ahrendts was born in New Palestine, Indiana. She is the SVP at Apple and the former CEO of Burberry. She was named one of Forbes’ Most Powerful Women in 2017 and also holds a spot on their list of the Most Powerful Women In Tech.
Peggy Whitson was born in Mount Ayr, Iowa. She is a biochemistry researcher, NASA astronaut, and former NASA chief astronaut. She was the first female and first non-pilot to serve as chief astronaut. She won the NASA Space Flight medal in 2002 and the NASA Outstanding Leadership medal in 2006.
Marillyn A. Hewson was born in Junction City, Kansas. She is the chairwoman, president, and CEO of Lockheed Martin. She was named the 3rd most powerful woman in the world by Fortune in 2016.
Jennifer Lawrence was born in Indian Hills, Kentucky. She is an Oscar Award–winning actress and was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2013. She was the highest-paid actress in the world in 2016 and 2017 and has appeared in films grossing over $5.5 billion worldwide.
Ellen Degeneres was born in Metairie, Louisiana. She is a comedian, television host, actress, writer, producer, and LGBT activist. Degeneres has won multiple Emmy Awards for Outstanding Talk Show. She was named the 50th Most Powerful Woman in the World by Forbes in 2015.
Anna Kendrick was born in Portland, Maine. She is a an actress and singer who has earned several MTV Movie Awards and has been nominated for a Tony Award and an Academy Award.
Adena Friedman was born in Baltimore, Maryland. She is the CEO of Nasdaq and is the first woman to lead the US stock exchange. She was named Forbes’ 3rd Most Powerful Woman in the World in 2017.
Geena Davis was born in Wareham, Massachusetts. She is an Academy Award–winning actress, Olympic archer, and founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.
Mary Teresa Barra was born in Waterford, Michigan. She’s the chairman and CEO of General Motors Company. She was named Forbes’ 5th Most Powerful Woman in the World in 2017.
Lindsey Vonn was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is a professional skier who has won four World Cup overall championships and an Olympic gold medal. She became the first American to win the gold medal in the women’s downhill event at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada. Vonn suffered an injury that put her out of competition for nearly two years in 2014 and 2015, but she came back and has since won an Olympic bronze medal in the women’s downhill event.
Oprah Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi. She is a media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist. She has won multiple awards including an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Tony Award, and an Emmy Award. Forbes named her the 21st Most Powerful Woman in the World in 2017.
Sheryl Crow is a singer and songwriter born in Kennett, Missouri. She is a breast cancer survivor who has won nine Grammy Awards and has established herself as an incredibly successful artist with a networth of $40 million.
Barbara Ehrenreich was born in Butte, Montana. She is an award-winning writer and journalist who has written over 21 books. The publishing industry considers her a “myth-buster by trade,” and she is best known for her book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, which exposed how unlivable the minimum wage was in America at the time of writing.
Deanna Mulligan was born in West Point, Nebraska. She is the president and CEO of a Fortune 300 company, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.
Jennifer Harman is a professional poker player born in Reno, Nevada. She won her first World Series of Poker bracelet in 2000 after learning the game just five minutes before she played. She’s since won her second WSOP bracelet and has been inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.
New Hampshire—Sarah Silverman
Sarah Silverman is a comedian, actress, writer, and producer born in Bedford, New Hampshire. She’s known for her satirical comedy and has won two Emmy Awards for her work.
New Jersey—Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. She is the founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, known for her DIY recipes, crafts, and home decor. She has been inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame and has earned a spot on multiple Forbes lists throughout her career.
New Mexico—Holly Holm
Holly Holm is a mixed martial artist born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is the first person out of males and females to win both boxing and MMA championships. She has won multiple world championships and successfully defended her titles 16 times.
New York—Meg Whitman
Meg Whitman was born in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. She has a net worth of $3.4 billion and has made multiple lists on Forbes. She’s worked for the Walt Disney Company, eBay, DreamWorks, Procter and Gamble, and Hewlett Packard.
North Carolina—Julianne Moore
Julianne Moore was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She is an accomplished actress who has won an Academy Award, two Golden Globes, two SAG awards, and two Emmys.
North Dakota—Jocelyne Lamoureux
Jocelyne Lamoureux was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota. She is a hockey player and scored the game-winning shot for Team USA against Canada to win the gold medal in the 2018 Olympics. She also played for Team USA in the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics, helping secure silver medals for the US in each.
Lynn Good was born in Ohio and is the president and CEO of the Fortune 500 company, Duke Energy. She was a member of the board of the Cincinnati Ballet for eight years and has been a member of the board of directors at Boeing since 2015.
Donna Nelson was born in Eaufaula, Oklahoma. She is a chemist who served as a science advisor on AMC’s hit television show Breaking Bad and also held the presidency of the Amercian Chemical Society in 2016. She has worked to improve organic chemistry textbooks in schools and has also researched diversity in science.
Sarah Mensah was born in Beaverton, Oregon. She is the vice president of the Nike Jordan brand. Prior to her role at Nike, Mensah was the chief operating officer of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Tory Burch was born in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. She is the chairman, CEO, and designer of Tory Burch LLC. She is also the founder of the Tory Burch Foundation, which supports women in America by giving them small-business loans and providing them with entrepreneurial education. She is also a member of the board of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Rhode Island—Ellen Slattery
Ellen Slattery was born in Rhode Island. She is the owner of Gracie’s, one of the founding restaurants of the Providence foodie scene, and Ellie’s Bakery. She is known for championing locally sourced food and participating in several charity projects dedicated to feeding the less fortunate in RI.
South Carolina—Renee Hembree
Renee Hembree grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. She’s the founder and executive director of Teen Angels, a local nonprofit that provides hundreds of teens a happy and fulfilling high school experience. She also served in various voluntary roles within the Horry County School system for over 20 years.
South Dakota—Kristi Noem
Kristi Noem was born in Watertown, South Dakota. She is a US representative who was first elected to serve as South Dakota’s lone member of the United States House of Representatives in 2010. She currently serves on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Amy Hood was born in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s Microsoft’s executive vice president and chief financial officer. In 2016, she was named Puget Sound Business Journal’s CFO of the Year and recognized as one of the World’s Most Powerful Women In Tech by Forbes. In 2017, she earned a spot on Fortune Magazine’s list of the Most Powerful Women.
Beyoncé was born in Austin, Texas. She is widely known as a singer, songwriter, and American businesswoman. In April 2016, she launched Ivy Park, a leisure clothing brand joint venture between Parkwood and Topshop, as well as investing in WTRMLN WTR, a water start-up founded by women.
Whitney Wolfe was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. She’s the founder and CEO of Bumble. In 2014 she was recognized as one of Business Insider’s 30 Most Important Women Under 30 In Tech. In addition, she was honored on the annual Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2017 and 2018.
Katie Couric was born in Virginia in 1957. She began her career in journalism as an assistant at the ABC network. Later she became a reporter for NBC and then went on to become one of the leading personalities in the news business as the coanchor of Today. Couric was named the first solo female anchor of CBS Evening News in 2006, and in 2012, she became host of the ABC talk show, Katie. Since early 2014, Couric has served as global news anchor for Yahoo.
Trudy Trombley was born in Vermont. She’s the owner of “The Boutique” in Stowe as well as the general manager of Stowe Mercantile. In 2017, the National Retail Federation named her America’s Retail Champion of the Year.
Washington—Dr. Bonnie Dunbar
Dr. Bonnie J. Dunbar was born in Sunnyside, Washington. She retired from NASA in September 2005 with a doctorate in Mechanical/Biomedical Engineering after completing five space flights and logging more than 50 days in space. After retiring, she became the president and CEO of the Seattle Museum of Flight. She now serves as a member of the Arnold Air Society and Silver Wings Board of Trustees and is a professor at Texas A&M.
Washington DC—Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg was born in Washington, DC. She is an executive, activist, and author. She currently serves as the COO of Facebook and is the founder of LeanIn.org.
West Virginia—Katherine Johnson
Katherine Johnson was born in Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. She is a mathematician who was one of NASA’s “human computers” who calculated the trajectories, launch windows, and emergency backup return paths for early space flights. Her work was critical to the success of many space missions including Project Mercury and Apollo 11. She has received various esteemed awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
Marissa Mayer was born in Wausau, Wisconsin. She is the former president and CEO of the Yahoo! company. She was named one of Fortune Magazine’s 50 Most Powerful Women in America seven years in a row and was the first woman to grab the number one spot on the same publication’s list of 40 Business Stars Under 40 in 2013.
Wyoming—Carol B. Tomé
Carol B. Tomé was born in Jackson, Wyoming. She has served as the CFO of The Home Depot since 2001 and was named executive vice president of corporate services in 2017. Tomé was named the second best CFO in America by The Wall Street Journal in 2012 and has been named one of Fortune Magazine’s 50 Most Powerful Women in America two years in a row.
Africa’s most influential women
Liberia—Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was born in Liberia. She is the former President of Liberia and the first elected female head of state in Africa. She also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
Ameenah Gurib was born in Mauritius. She is the President of Mauritius and the first female to hold this position. She is also a globally renowned scientist specializing in conservation.
Folorunsho Alakija was born in Nigeria. She is the managing director of the Rose of Sharon Group and the executive vice chairman of Famfa Oil. She was named the 80th most powerful person in the world by Forbes in 2016.
Nigeria—Ngozi Okonjo Iweala
Ngozi Okonjo Iweala was born in Nigeria. She is an economist and the first female minister of finance in her country. She served two terms as the finance minister of Nigeria and was previously managing director of the World Bank.
South Africa—Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron was born in South Africa. She is an Academy Award–winning actress and the founder of the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project.
Asia’s most influential women
Bangladesh—Sheikh Hasina Wajed
Sheikh Hasina Wajed was born in Bangladesh. She is the current prime minister of Bangladesh and has maintained a political career for more than four decades. She was named Forbes’ 30th Most Powerful Woman in the World in 2017 and is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders.
Indra Nooyi was born in India. She is the current chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, which is the second-largest food and beverage business in the world by net revenue. She was ranked the 11th Most Powerful Woman in the World by Forbes in 2017 and serves as a member of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum, of the International Rescue Committee, of Catalyst, and of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Safra Catz was born in Israel. She is the current CEO of Oracle and was named the 14th Most Powerful Woman in the World by Forbes in 2017. She is one of the world’s highest-paid female executives and is credited with spearheading Oracle’s aggressive acquisition strategy, helping more than 100 acquisitions since 2005.
Ho Ching was born in Signapore. She is the CEO of Temasek Holdings. She is credited with reviving the company from one of its worst performing years and has helped the company venture into new sectors like technology, life sciences, and agribusiness. She was named Forbes’ 28th Most Powerful Woman in the World in 2017.
Tsai Ing-wen was born in China. She is the current president of the Republic of China, commonly known as Taiwan. Forbes named her the 15th Most Powerful Woman in the World in 2017 and has made waves as the first Taiwanese president to speak directly to the US president since 1979. She has implemented a five-industry plan to stimulate the economy, focusing on biotech and pharmaceuticals, national defense, smart machinery, green energy, and the Internet of Things.
Australia’s most influential women
Hobart—Elizabeth H. Blackburn
Elizabeth H. Blackburn was born in Hobart, Australia. She became the first Australian woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her studies in physiology and medicine. She is currently the president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and served as a member of the President of the United State’s Council on Bioethics in 2002.
Dalby, Queensland—Margot Robbie
Born and raised on a farm in Dalby, Queensland, Margot Robbie is an Australian actress and film producer. In 2017, Forbes Magazine listed her in their 30 Under 30 list, and Time magazine named her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Robbie received a Best Actress nomination at the Academy Awards, SAG, Golden Globe, and BAFTA for her role in the 2017 film, I, Tonya.
Slade Pint, City of Mackay—Cathy Freeman
Cathy Freeman was born in Slade Point, City of Mackay, Australia. She was the first indigenous Australian track and field athlete to compete in the Olympic Games, winning silver in Atlanta in 1996 and gold in Sydney in 2000. She is the founder of the Cathy Freeman Foundation, an organization that promotes educational opportunites for disadvantaged indigenous children.
Sally Macmanus was born in Sydney, Australia. She is a trade unionist and political activist who has served as the secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) since 2017. She was listed as one of Australian Financial Review’s 30 most influential people in Australia in 2017.
Europe’s most influential women
Christine Lagarde was born in France. She is a lawyer, a politician, and the managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
Angela Merkel was born in Germany. She has served as the chancellor of Germany since 2005. She was named Forbes’ Most Powerful Woman in the World in 2017.
Spain—Ana Patricia Botin
Ana Patricia Botin was born in Spain. She is the executive chairman of the Santander Group and was named one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Banking.
United Kingdom—Ruth Porat
Ruth Porat was born in the United Kingdom. She is the CFO of Alphabet Inc., as well as its subsidiary Google. Prior to her role at Alphabet, Porat was the CFO and executive vice president of Morgan Stanley.
United Kingdom—Theresa May
Theresa May was born in the United Kingdom. She is the current prime minister of the UK. She was named the 16th most powerful person in the world by Forbes in 2016 and the third most powerful woman in the world by the same publication in 2017.
North America’s most influential women
Angela James was born in Canada. She is a famed hockey player who has won four world championships and was the first woman inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Geisha Williams was born in Cuba. She is the president and CEO of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. She was named one of Forbes’ Most Powerful Women in the World in 2017.
Portia Simpson-Miller was born in Jamaica. She was the prime minister of Jamaica for two terms. She is one of only two people to have served two terms as prime minister in Jamaica following independence.
Gabriela Enrigue was born in Mexico. She is the founder of Prospera, a company dedicated to supporting microenterprises to increase the added value of their products.
United States—Melinda Gates
Melinda Gates was born in the United States. She is the cofounder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and was named Forbes’ 3rd Most Powerful Woman in the World in 2017.
South America’s most influential women
Brazil—Luiza Helena Trajano Inácio Rodrigues
Luiza Helena Trajano Inácio Rodrigues was born in Brazil. She is the CEO of Magazine Luiza and was named Forbes’ 3rd Most Powerful Businesswomen in Brazil.
Michelle Bachelet was born in Chile. She is the first female Chilean president and the first person since 1932 to win the Chilean presidency twice.
Shakira Isabel Mebarak was born in Colombia. She is a world-renowned pop icon who has won five MTV Video Music Awards, two Grammy Awards, eight Latin Grammy Awards, seven Billboard Music Awards, and twenty-eight Billboard Latin Music Awards. She also founded the Pies Descalzos Foundation when she was just 18 years old. The foundation funds schools for poor children in Colombia. She was honored for her charitable work at a UN ceremony.
Venezuela—Delcy Eloína Rodríguez Gómez
Delcy Eloína Rodríguez Gómez was born in Venezula. She is the president of the Constitutional Assembly of Venezuela.