Image: National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice
Charles Dharapak  /  AP file
Forbes.com ranks National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as the world's most powerful woman.
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updated 8/20/2004 4:53:22 PM ET 2004-08-20T20:53:22

I don't mind how much my ministers talk," baroness Margaret Thatcher once said, "as long as they do what I say."

The former British prime minister long ago defied the conventional wisdom that women can gain power only by studiously working behind the scenes to forge consensus. That's why she and 99 other leaders in politics, business and social causes have made it to the first Forbes ranking of the world's most powerful women.

How do you measure relative power? Realistically, it's hard to quantify the differences between, say, a chief executive and a Supreme Court justice. They wield power in vastly different ways.

But we attempted the impossible — comparing the incommensurable — by creating a power scorecard.

For each candidate we came up with a numerical weight defined by her title and résumé; the size of the economic sphere in which she wields power (a foundation is measured by its endowment, a country by its GDP); and the number of global media mentions.

We threw in some subjective adjustments — more weight to a current head of state than a former one, for instance. Finally, we sought the advice of the pros who study women at Catalyst, a nonprofit research group in New York, and Laura Liswood, secretary general of the Council of Women World Leaders, who helped vet candidates.

Is this approach arbitrary? Sure. But it turned up lots of surprising names often overlooked. That includes women who have broken through the glass ceiling, such as Christine Lagarde (No. 76), a Frenchwoman who runs the law firm Baker & McKenzie.

We also got reacquainted with famous do-gooders, like Queen Rania of Jordan (No. 13) and Carol Bellamy (No. 95), head of Unicef. Corporate leaders caught our eye, too, like Ho Ching (No. 24), the most powerful woman executive in Singapore.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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