This isn't a sign that women are progressing in business, the vast majority of women on the list owe their wealth to rich parents, rich husbands or rich exes
There are a record-breaking number of women on this year’s Sunday Times Rich List with 118 women making the cut, ten more than the previous high of 108 recorded in 2012. The 100 richest women owned a combined fortune of £55.287 billion — which is around a fifth of the net worth of Britain’s hundred richest (a list that includes nine women), but is hardly a measly sum.
This might appear cause for celebration for those who wish to see more women progress in business, but the small number of self-made women to make the list is striking. While the Sunday Times notes that this year a record 778 rich-listers made their own fortune, compared to just 43 of the 200 rich-listers recorded in 1989, the list of Britain’s wealthiest women tells a very different story.
If you discount the number of women who made the list due to ‘family wealth’ (which they may have contributed towards to a greater or lesser degree), inheritance or divorce (Slavica Ecclestone owes her £740 million fortune to a lucrative split with Bernie) — the first self-made female richlister is Elena Baturina.
Baturina (pictured left) is the UK’s 12th richest woman and comes 122nd on the rich list. I interviewed her last year, and she spoke of her humble upbringing and the challenges of building up a business in Russia’s macho, male-dominated business world. Her critics accuse her of exploiting her husband’s position as Mayor of Moscow to secure lucrative construction contracts while Baturina insists that her husband's job actually constrained her ambitions.
The next self-made woman on the list is JK Rowling, Britain’s 20th wealthiest woman and 156th on the overall rich list. Rowling made her fortune writing the Harry Potter series. Her story is familiar to many — she wrote the first Harry Potter book while struggling to make ends meet as a single mother in Edinburgh, and became a multi-millionaire within a few years — and it’s the kind of rags-to-riches tale that gives people cheer.
This story, however, is unusual for a female rich-lister — the vast majority of women on the list owe their fortunes to rich parents, rich husbands or rich exes (in total five women made it on the list thanks to divorce.)
If you were to take the Sunday Times Rich list as an (admittedly imperfect) sign of whether women in modern Britain are able to make it to the very top of industry business, then despite the records broken, the list of Britain’s wealthiest women only illustrates that there’s plenty of room for progress.