Friday, October 8, 2010

America’s Richest Women

It takes one billion dollars to make the 2010 Forbes 400 Richest Americans list. The list is populated with names like Gates, Buffet, Zuckerberg, and Bloomberg, with tech giants leading the pack.

But where are the women?

Of the top 400, I count 42 women (11%). What is most striking is the lack of self-made female billionaires on the list. Most of the women on the list are described as having inherited their fortunes either due to the death of a spouse or passed down from prior generations. (I should point out that many of the men on the list also inherited their fortunes.)

I can find only four women on the list, who appear to have truly created their own fortune. They include Oprah Winfrey (#130) and Meg Whitman (#332). I count two women who are listed as having co-founded companies with their spouses. They are Doris Fisher who co-founded Gap (#159) and Diane Hendricks who co-founded ABC Supply (#170).

It is not my intent to diminish the accomplishments of the women who inherited their fortunes and have stepped up and successfully managed their empires. That is accomplishment worth noting. I also recognize that there are many women behind the scenes, supporting these men, as Jenna Goudreau points out in her article "Forbes 400: The Silent Billionaires".

Indeed, one of these silent women is Melinda Gates, who 60 Minutes recently profiled calling her “America’s richest woman”. Melinda Gates doesn’t make the Fortune 400 list; she shares her husband’s fortune. She is the co-founder and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As a philanthropist responsible for giving away billions of dollars, Gates told 60 Minute’s Scott Pelley that giving away billions was “more fun” than her work as an executive at Microsoft. Yes, I imagine it is.

I can’t attribute the lack of female billionaires to the much-talked-about corporate glass ceiling, as this list is primarily comprised of entrepreneurs. While US Census data on women-owned businesses won’t be available until December, the Commerce Department recently reported that between 1997 and 2007, women-owned businesses grew by 44 percent – twice as fast as businesses owned by men.

So why then, are there so few female billionaires?

Are women aiming too low? Are we too conservative? Are we happier with less? Are we afraid to go all in?

Sharon Hadary, former and founding executive director of the Center for Women's Business Research, says in this Wall Street Journal article that it starts with the goals. She notes that, “women start businesses to be personally challenged and to integrate work and family, and they want to stay at a size where they personally can oversee all aspects of the business.”

What do you think? Why are there are so few female billionaires? How many women out there have set a goal to reach $1 billion?


Anonymous said...

Intelectually I realize this is an interesting question, but it's hard for me to relate to since I can't really imagine wanting to accumulate more money than what I use to live comfortably. A fascinating, maybe related, question is why there are so few female Nobel Prize winners (or IBM fellows).

Colette said...

Anonymous, you raise a very good point about the lack of women in the highest technical roles, Nobel prize winners, and I'll add Pulitzer prize winners.

Carol Kilgore said...

I think it's because most women who start businesses don't use $$$ as the prime way of keeping score. Personal satisfaction is equally or more important than how much money they take in.

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it