As director of London’s Whitechapel Gallery, she is one of the world’s leading public gallery directors. This year, her range expanded with a project timed to coincide with Art Basel Miami Beach.
Still at the peak of New York’s gallery scene, power-broker Gladstone’s artists include Allora & Calzadilla, stars of the Venice Biennale, Matthew Barney and Anish Kapoor.
The New York-based Iranian filmmaker and artist is an eloquent commentator on the Middle East, powerfully lending her voice to the Arab spring.
As half of the power duo who run Frieze, Sharp has big plans for 2012. With two new fairs and the conquest of New York in prospect, the art world is watching.
Sheikha al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani
The daughter of Qatar’s Emir is a driving force behind her country’s stellar collection of international art.
The Kenyan set a world record in the half-marathon, and won the London marathon with the fourth-fastest time in history, only months after she first competed at that distance.
Winning Wimbledon aged 21, the Czech star is tennis’s first Grand Slam winner to be born in the 1990s. She recently won the WTA’s Player of the Year award.
In Paris this summer, Li Na became the first – but surely not the last – Chinese to win a tennis Grand Slam. She also came close earlier in the year, making it to the final of the Australian Open.
The Japanese footballer led her team to victory in the Women’s World Cup, and also won the Golden Ball for best player of the competition.
The Taiwanese golfer won the LPGA Championship and the Women’s British Open to become, at 22, the youngest player of either gender to win five majors.
Technology and science
The leading Austrian social scientist became president of the European Research Council in 2010. Scientists regard the ERC as Europe’s most successful science funding body.
As new CEO at IBM, she has had an amazing climb through the ranks and is now taking over one of the icons of corporate America.
Dame Nancy Rothwell
President and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester, she is an imaginative leader and also a pioneering neuroscientist whose research has contributed to the treatment of brain damage.
The COO of Facebook is now most people’s pick for the woman in tech with the brightest future. Rumoured to be in the running for US treasury secretary earlier this year, her ambitions to change the world are reckoned to extend much further.
Enjoying a second act as new chief executive of HP. She is a controversial appointment – all the more so after her expensive failed bid for California governorship.
The Burberry CEO has taken fashion to a new digital frontier. Her willingness to put the company’s money into the internet has paved the way for the entire industry.
The recent winner of the Designer Brand of the Year at the British Fashion Awards has completely changed the stereotype of “celebrity designer”, creating a business that is credible and commendable. (See Victoria Beckham, fashion designer)
Taking the helm at Alexander McQueen, she launched the wedding dress of the new millennium and, in the same week, opened a record-breaking show in New York at the Met’s Costume Institute.
The singer has changed the relationship between fashion and performance for ever, making them equal partners in creation.
The Duchess of Cambridge inspired women to cover their arms for their wedding, and to mix high street and high fashion unapologetically.
The first female editor of The New York Times believes she can meet the challenge of taking the “Gray Lady” into the digital age.
The Chinese-American law professor penned a tough-love book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, that sparked a debate on parenting and ethnic stereotypes.
The Democratic Congresswoman from Arizona miraculously survived a shooting that killed six of her constituents. Her surprise return to the House of Representatives to vote for the debt ceiling deal was met with a standing ovation.
During the Arab spring, the Yemeni activist organised protests against President Saleh. She was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
After almost stealing the show as maid of honour at the Royal Wedding, Ms Middleton – a party planner and socialite – became the subject of tabloid and internet obsession.
Despite struggling with illness, the singer still managed to break records with 21, her world-conquering second album.
The Danish actress has dominated TV screens as the jumper-wearing Sarah Lund in cult series The Killing, now back for its second season.
Two decades into her career, the singer’s latest album, Let England Shake, was hailed as her best work yet, winning her an unprecedented second Mercury prize.
Screenwriter extraordinaire, she is responsible for The Hour, one of the most talked-about TV series of the year, and forthcoming films The Iron Lady and Shame. (See Abi Morgan, screenwriter)
The 23-year-old bestselling Barbadian singer extended her winning streak with her sixth album – and still managed to raise a few eyebrows along the way.
From The Top 50 Women in World Business magazine
Xerox’s chief executive – the first African-American woman to lead an S&P 100 company – has worked there for three decades, having started as an intern.
The head of Avon is the longest-serving female chief executive of a Fortune 500 company.
The Indian-born CEO of PepsiCo is dedicated to sustainable growth. Her iconic status grew this year when a storyline in the US TV series Gossip Girl revolved around a character trying to meet her.
The chief executive of Kraft Foods has been hailed for her bold decision to split Kraft into two separate companies before the end of 2012.
The chairwoman and MD of Turkey’s Sabanci Holdings is a philanthropist who won a Clinton Global Citizen Award this year. Her initiatives include Sabanci University.
Although initially sceptical about military action in Libya, the secretary of state helped persuade Obama to commit the US. She has stressed the importance of women’s rights in the Arab spring.
The former lawyer started the year as France’s minister of finance before becoming the first female head of the IMF. (See Power with grace)
All eyes remain on the German chancellor, the G8’s longest-serving leader, as the eurozone crisis continues.
Brazil’s first female president has been praised for her tough anti-corruption stance. Critical of European responses to the debt crisis, she considered giving Portugal financial support.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Since her release from house arrest last year, the Burmese opposition leader has been in dialogue with the government. “The Lady” is likely to run for office in the next parliamentary elections.
An MIT economist who argues for greater use of controlled trials to make aid spending more effective, Duflo won the 2011 FT and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year award with her co-author Abhijit Banerjee for Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty.
Egan trumped the likes of Chang-Rae Lee this year when she won the Pulitzer prize for fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award for A Visit from the Goon Squad. (See Jennifer Egan, novelist)
The bestselling children’s author announced in June that she was setting up Pottermore, a permanent online home for everyone’s favourite wizard featuring additional unpublished content and new writing.
Her masterful biography of Charles Dickens has rekindled the British obsession with the prolific 19th-century writer just in time for the bicentenary of the author’s birth next year.
Her powerful debut The Submission, published in August, is already widely regarded as the best novel about the September 11 atrocities and their aftermath.
Nominated by: Clive Cookson, Jan Dalley, Vanessa Friedman, Lorien Kite, Simon Kuper, Rebecca Rose, Alec Russell, Richard Waters, FT Weekend Magazine staff