Interactive Investor

Who are the world’s 10 richest women?

30th January 2023 14:22

Alice Guy from interactive investor

We all know who many of the richest men on the planet are, but can you name the wealthiest women? Alice Guy reveals the top 10 here and discusses why there are comparatively few female billionaires.

Picture a billionaire and what do you see? Chances are they’re male, middle-aged and run a tech business. But what about female billionaires? Odds are that most people would struggle to name more than few.

And when it comes to self-made female billionaires there are even fewer. According to Forbes, of the world’s 2,668 billionaires, just 327 are women and only 101 women are self-made, rather than inheriting their wealth.

We take a look at the world’s 10 richest women, examine the tough question of why so few mega-wealthy self-made entrepreneurs are women, and reveal the amazing generosity of one female billionaire.

Heiress billionaires

Of the world’s 10 richest women, only one is self-made – the rest have all inherited their business empires from fathers or husbands.

Gina Rinehart is the world’s richest self-made woman. She took on her father’s bankrupt mining estate in 1992 and has since rebuilt it, becoming a billionaire in 2006.

MacKenzie Scott, currently the world’s 11th-richest woman and former wife of Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos, was heavily involved in the early days of Amazon and is also self-made, although she just misses out on a top 10 slot.

Booming wealth

Just like their male counterparts, female billionaires benefited from the stock market boom during the Covid pandemic.

Increased liquidity and ultra-low interest rates caused stock prices to soar, and between January 2020 and December 2021, the wealth of the top 10 female billionaires climbing by a collective 24%.

During 2022, as stock prices slipped, the top 10 had a relatively soft landing compared with their male counterparts. Their wealth has only fallen a collective 4%, partly due to the traditional nature of their businesses. The share price of L'Oreal (EURONEXT:OR), owned by Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, has actually risen 2.6% from one year ago.

MacKenzie Scott’s philanthropy

MacKenzie Scott was catapulted into the wealthy super league following her £38 billion divorce settlement from Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos in 2019. Her wealth topped out at around $66 billion in 2021 but, since then, she has given away an astonishing $14 billion to charity. In future, she has promised to give away even more as she has signed the Giving Pledge and promised to give away more than half her total wealth.

That generosity meant her wealth plunged, dropping from the second wealthiest women in July 2021, out of the top 10 by December 2022.

Why so few self-made female billionaires?

So why are there few mega-wealthy self-made women compared to men?

The reasons are complex, but here are five reasons why it’s arguably harder for women to build staggering wealth:

Historic gender bias: most of the wealthiest women inherited businesses set up long ago in an age that was very different for women in the workplace and in business. In 1950s and 1960s Britain, women were expected to give up work when they married, and the “marriage bar”, which banned married women from working, was only abolished in the British Foreign office in 1973. Likewise in the US, bars on employed married women persisted into the 1950s and unequal pay based on gender only became illegal in 1963. Despite those changes, the gender pay gap persists to this day, and there still currently just nine female CEOs in the FTSE 100.

Tech gender bias: six out of the world’s top 10 male billionaires have made their money in tech businesses, an industry notoriously biased in favour of men. According to a recent report by Pew Research, women remain underrepresented in engineering (15%), computing (25%) and science (40%) occupations. In addition, 74% of women working with computers have experienced gender-related discrimination in the workplace.

Funding bias: “funding remains the number one barrier facing female entrepreneurs at every stage of their business journey”, according to the 2022 Rose Review Progress Report. They found that women find it harder to raise capital, are judged to be less competent than men, and are forced to launch businesses with less funding than men. Sarah Norford-Jones, who co-founded secure messaging app with her father, reveals how she gets “glossed over” and ignored in meetings with potential investors in favour of her dad. She believes that bias is particularly common in the tech sector because there are so few female employees.

Caring responsibilities: female founders are disproportionately affected by caring responsibilities and the cost of childcare. The 2019 Rose Review finds that, “women are twice as likely as men to mention family responsibilities as a barrier to starting a business, and rates of entrepreneurialism fall sharply for women after the age of 35 compared to men”. Expensive childcare and poor maternity rights continue to be an issue for many women across the world.

Attitude to risk? It’s often argued that fewer women succeed in business because they have a lower tolerance of risk, but a new study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, found “no evidence” that women take less risk in the workplace. Thekla Morgenroth explains that men are often associated with stereotypically masculine risks: only 14% of skydivers are women. But women are more likely to enjoy other equally risky hobbies, such as horse-riding. And actually, women undertake one of the riskiest activities of all. “In the United States, being pregnant is about 20 times more likely to result in death than a skydive.” It’s a good job for the next generation of entrepreneurs that women remain willing to take that risk!

What about the future for female billionaires?

There are signs the tide is beginning to turn. In 2010, Forbes research showed there were only 1,011 billionaires in the world, and 665 were self-made men. Only 14 women had made their own money. While still a long way short of their male counterparts, progress has been made.

In addition, the number of female business owners has increased by 114% in the US over the last 20 years. It is estimated that women own 36% of small businesses worldwide.

And it’s from those small beginnings that large businesses grow. To quote Bumble (NASDAQ:BMBL) founder Whitney Wolfe Herd, “so many entrepreneurs approach me and say, 'I want to start the next big thing,' and I say, 'Well, what are you solving?' And oftentimes they say, 'Oh, I'm not sure. I want to start something big.' You can never start something big without solving something small, right?”

Francoise Bettencourt MeyersL’Oreal (founded 1909)$80.7 billionGranddaughter of L'Oreal founder and has served on board since 1997. Family owns 33% of L'Oreal stock. 
Julia Flesher KochKoch industries (founded 1940)$69.2 billionInherited 42% stake in US-based conglomerate, Koch Industries from her husband, David Koch, who died in August 2019.
Alice WaltonWalmart Inc (founded 1962)$63.3 billionInherited Walmart from her father, Sam Walton, along with her brothers Jim Walton ($65.7 billion) and Rob Walton ($65.0 billion).
Jacqueline Badger MarsMars (founded 1911)$63.3 billionInherited an estimated one-third of Mars, the confectionary giant. She worked for Mars for nearly 20 years, serving on the board until 2016.
Miriam AdelsonLas Vegas Sands (founded 1988)$34.7 billionInherited casino company Las Vegas Sands from her husband Sheldon in January 2021.
Abigail JohnsonFidelity (founded 1946)$28.5 billionInherited an estimated 24.5% stake in the investing giant. She has been CEO of Fidelity Investments since 2014 and chairman since 2016 having worked in the business since university. 
Gina RinehartHancock Prospecting$26.4 billionAustralia's richest citizen, Gina Rinehart rebuilt her father’s troubled mining company after becoming chairwoman in 1992.
Iris FontbonaAntofagasta (founded 1888)$25.7 billionInherited Chilean mining company Antofagasta Plc from husband Andrónico Luksic in 2005.
Susanne KlattenBMW (founded 1916)$24.0 billionInherited around 19% of car-manufacturer BMW from her father Herbert Quandt along with her brother, Stefan Quandt.
Elaine MarshallKoch industries heiress (founded 1940),$23.0 billionInherited her estimated 15% stake in Koch Industries from her husband E. Pierce Marshall.
MacKenzie ScottAmazon (founded 1994)$21.1 billionReceived a 25% stake Amazon as part of her divorce settlement in 2019. She was heavily involved in the early days of Amazon and helped Bezos behind the scenes during their marriage of 25 years.

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