Who will be the first women to join the ‘centi-billionaire’ club?

Men dominate the world’s rich lists. Whether the top spots are filled by tech founders or luxury conglomerate CEOs, every wealth index tells the same story: those who make the most money are those with an XY chromosome.

With the likes of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault among the first in history to achieve a net worth in excess of $100 billion (£80bn), even the world’s richest women have a way to go before joining them at the top.

But how far behind are they in achieving a milestone membership to the ‘centi-billion club’? Less than 10 years, according to new analysis into the net worth of the world’s richest female billionaires.

The first female predicted to hit the big time, is billionaire French heiress Françoise Bettencourt Meyers. As the granddaughter of L’Oreal’s founder and a 12-year tenured board member of the company, she is currently the richest woman in the world. Beyond her family’s make-up empire, Bettencourt-Meyers has  published books on Greek gods and Jewish-Christian relations, respectively.

Her wealth is estimated to double from $53.9 billion (£44.5 billion) to $100 billion by the time she turns 75 – nine years from now.

With Jeff Bezos having become the world’s first centi-billionaire last year, Bettencourt Meyers’s projected wealth will mark a decade’s difference for women to achieve the same financial feat.

It’s not surprising that women have been slow to catch-up. It has been an uphill battle to balance the investment opportunities and earning potential of women. According to Barclays  Scaling Up Female Entrepreneurship report in 2017, companies without a single female founder were awarded a total £3,580 million of investment, while companies with at least one women at the top received just £358.4 million. That’s 91 percent to nine percent of all publicly announced deals.

Ben Gallagher, workplace culture expert and the co-founder of management consultancy B+A, knows this all too well. “Men have been so dominant in the higher reaches of business for such a long time, and the glass ceiling is still barely broken in most organisations,” he says. “Everything conspires against women in reaching that point of massive financial success – and that needs to change.

“Hopefully women in this position will spearhead organisations that champion and implement gender equality, and prioritise the needs of women in the workplace, providing the hope that women can have just as much chance as men in succeeding at the very highest levels.”

Francoise Bettencourt Meyers

Francoise Bettencourt Meyers will be the first woman

Ironically, second in line to join the club is expected to be Bezos’s ex-wife, 49-year-old MacKenzie Bezos. The American novelist was, in fact, Amazon’s first-ever employee (her husband founded the company a year after they married) and she retained 25 percent of the couple’s company stocks in their recent and highly-publicised divorce. The divorced pair’s riches will still grow as the company does.

MacKenzie, now a novelist, trained to write under Toni Morrison, who has said she was “one of her best ever students”, and has published two well-received novels, Traps and The Testing of Luther Albright.

She’s also a prolific philanthropist – founding anti-bullying organisation Bystander Revolution – and has pledged to donate at least half her wealth to charitable causes.

With a $39.1 billion (£32,2 billion) fortune, Bezos is thought to be the world’s 22nd richest person and her projected earnings suggest she’ll sit comfortably among centi-billionaires’ male majority by December 2034.

Australia’s Georgina “Gina” Rinehart is expected to be close on MacKenzie Bezos’s heels.  The mining magnate earned her fortune as Chairman of Hancock Prospecting – a privately owned mineral exploration and extraction company founded by her  father, Lang Hancock.

 Amazon CEO Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with his ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos

It should take Rinehart roughly another two decades to become a centi-billionaire. years. Her finances took a downturn around 2013, mirroring the Australia’s mining sector as a whole, just one year after securing a spot as the world’s richest woman. All has since recovered, and she currently holds the title of Australia’s richest citizen with a net worth of $15.5 billion (£12.7 billion).

For Melissa Snover, CEO and founder of the world’s first 3D-printed personalised vitamin company, Nourish3d, the rise of the female centi-billionaire is long overdue.

“More female entrepreneurs and business women reaching this milestone is critical,” she says. “It means there will be more role models for young people and more loud and proud female founders helping change the perception of what an entrepreneur is.”

Yet, the recent Rose review – commissioned by the UK Government following the Telegraph’s Women Mean Business campaign to close the funding gap for women entrepreneurs – suggested that the number of female founders is actively declining. “I believe that women are reaching this milestone later than their male counterparts primarily because there are simply less female entrepreneurs,” adds Snover.

“This may be because it is harder for women to access funding. It can be very difficult to navigate the Venture Capital and funding ecosystem for anyone – but when you consider that women get less than one per cent of VC funding, it’s clear that it is more difficult for us.

Gina Rinehart  

Gina Rinehart

For women beyond VC stage, the picture doesn’t get much prettier. The Office for National Statistics’ latest gender pay gap report suggests females who identify as directors, senior officials and managers get paid a massive 13.6 per cent less than men in the same roles.

The youngest centi-billionaire in the making is 38-year-old Chinese property developer Yang Huiyan. Though it is expected to take her another 24 years, the richest woman in Asia already boasts a $21.2 billion (£17.5) fortune that continues to grow through Country Garden Holdings (which, share wise, rivals Google).

But many of the world’s richest women are unlikely to reach $100 billion within their lifetime. Investor Jaqueline Mars, Walmart heiress Alice Walton, pharmaceutical heiress Susanne Klattem and the richest woman in tech, Laurene Powell Jobs, would – according to current predictions – all be aged over 100 by the time they hit the financial milestone.

Even the world’s richest women, it seems, can’t escape the gender pay gap.


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