So who is the most powerful woman in Britain?

Woman's Hour to draw up 100 names for its Power List, highlighting areas of gender inequality

More than 33 years after Margaret Thatcher first entered Downing Street, the BBC will respond to concerns over the lack of female representation in the upper echelons of British society by launching an unprecedented project to identify the 100 most powerful women in the nation.

The "Woman's Hour Power List" will be compiled during a month of special programmes on Radio 4 and will be supported by online nominations submitted by members of the public.

The list of 100 names will be drawn up by a panel headed by the writer and former national newspaper editor Eve Pollard. The panel, and the programme's listeners, will be informed by a series of pieces of expert analysis on various sectors of society, from business to law. Fresh from her role as an Olympics commentator, Clare Balding will present an assessment of the most powerful women in sport. Other sectors will include fashion, retail and social media.

The editor of Woman's Hour, Alice Feinstein, said the exercise would highlight areas of British life in which there was a dearth of powerful women. "My suspicion is that we may find that those individuals are concentrated in certain areas, they are doing certain jobs and there are huge gulfs where women hardly appear at all," she said.

She added that previous research had highlighted severe shortages of women in powerful positions in the judiciary, in higher education and the military. "In the House of Commons men outnumber women four to one and there are just five women CEOs in the FTSE 100," she said.

The Power List will "celebrate the successes" of women, but is also intended to provoke a debate on the reasons why women have not made greater progress in British society and whether there are "very good reasons why some women might not want to take those positions", she said.

According to Woman's Hour presenter Jenni Murray, some women are still not comfortable with the idea of being considered powerful. "Elizabeth I was powerful, as were Catherine de Medici and Margaret Thatcher, but it rather feels as if power in a woman is still considered 'not quite nice'," she said.

Her colleague Jane Garvey said that even those women who do exercise power in British society might feel their efforts were unrecognised. "You could be forgiven for thinking it's still a man's world and we're lucky to be in it."

Our nominations: Independent writers choose

Harriet Walker: Style Editor

Stella McCartney She's has had a triumphant year, presenting an eveningwear collection in London last February and outfitting TeamGB for the Olympics this summer. Her eponymous label has posted profits year on year, with several new stores opening in 2012 too.

Natalie Massenet In a little over 10 years, her bright idea has transformed itself into a multi-million pound business (Net-A-Porter) that has changed the face of modern retail, spawning menswear and discount spin-offs. Recently named British Fashion Council chairman.

Katherine Butler: Comment Editor

Camila Batmanghelidjh The psychotherapist-turned-charity worker has done outstanding work not just for the tens of thousands of child beneficiaries of her outreach programmes, but in keeping the scandalous scale of inequality in the public consciousness.

Margaret Hodge The Labour chairs of the Public Accounts Committee has emerged as a fearless champion of the taxpayer, calling all kinds of groups to account, from HMRC bosses who refused to divulge details of sweetheart tax deals, to corporations like Starbucks.

Lisa Markwell: Executive Editor

Nina Gold The Emmy-winning casting director has discovered and nurtured myriad British movie stars and has a reputation for being fun and inspired in equal measures. Recently responsible for Mike Leigh's genius line-ups, The King's Speech and the cast of cult favourite Game of Thrones.

Phoebe Philo Masterful designer at fashion house Celine. Brilliantly made the label a success again, then imposed her maternity leave on a male-dominated industry and has just returned triumphant after her third child.

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