Nicole Kidman sits in the number four position on BRW's female rich list. Photo: JIM URQUHART
Evidence that money is more attractive to one sex than the other is pretty hard to find. Funny, then, that women seem to be in such short supply when it comes to the world’s rich lists. Forbes counts 138 on its 1428-strong billionaires’ list, released this week; the China-focused Hurun Report, which released its own Global Rich List a few days ago, agrees that roughly one in ten billionaires is female.
Here in Australia, seriously wealthy women particularly hard to come by. Gina Rinehart’s $17bn fortune might make her the country’s richest person, but BRW’s Rich 200 featured just 16 women last year – less than 8 per cent when you take into account joint entries. Of the 100 people on the Young Rich list, only six were female.
"It may also make be the first Rich List in this part of the world that Rinehart isn’t on."
However, if you aspire to mega-wealth but don’t happen to have a penis, BRW has just published something a bit more heartening: its first Rich Women list. Featuring the 30 richest Australian females who have played a part in creating their own fortune, it may also make be the first Rich List in this part of the world that Rinehart isn’t on. It includes corporate successes such as Westpac’s Gail Kelly and the celebrity likes of Nicole Kidman and Kylie Minogue, but two thirds of these women are entrepreneurs – TPG co-founder Vicky Teoh tops the list with an estimated fortune of $390 million, as well as fashion designer Carla Zampatti and Carmen Foods entrepreneur Carolyn Cresswell.
These women are all worth at least $30 million - hardly small-time, but well short of billionaire status. Barbara Kale, founder of Chief Executive Women, told BRW women’s tendency to go for corporate careers rather than entrepreneurial ones meant they were less likely to make the huge sums which catapult people onto rich lists.
“I know some of the women in Chief Executive Women are earning a couple of million, so what would make them risk going out on their own when you’ve still only got 24 hours in a day?”
Others suggested some women are failing to reach multi-millionaire status for the same reasons that many others with a few less zeroes to play with are peering out across a gender pay gap. They argue women tend to self-promote and network less than men do and that Nice Girls who Don’t Get The Corner Office don’t get the private jet or personal island either. Lurking in the background is the murky question of whether women face bias in the workplace, unconscious or otherwise, regardless of how they behave.
The Rich Women list is largely a showcase of female achievement, highlighting how broad the range of female talent in this country is. Look through the Hurun and Forbes billionaires lists, meanwhile, and it’s hard to ignore how many of the ultra-rich have inherited their billions.
Reading through the list it’s tempting to ask whether the world really needs more ultra-wealthy women. There’s strong evidence that bringing more women onto company boards is good for profits and productivity as well as gender equity; greater numbers of women in parliament make our democratic institutions more representative of the communities they were elected to serve. But female billionaires are – surprise, surprise – just as likely to attempt to buy power, bring lawsuits against their families and avoid sharing their wealth as their male counterparts.
The woman Forbes calls “the reigning queen of family feuds”, Gina Rinehart, is not exactly renowned for her social conscience. The world’s richest woman, L’Oreal heir Liliane Bettencourt, has a reputation for philanthropy – but has also been accused of tax evasion and making illegal political donations.
Of course, if an opportunity exists for men, women deserve access to the same . And plenty of wealthy people of both sexes use their personal success as a force for good: many of the women on BRW’s list are well-known for their charity work. But looking at some of the characters who make billionaires’ lists makes those who use their wealth wisely look even better.
Here are BRW’s top five rich women – read the full list at brw.com.au
Vicky Teoh, co-founder of internet company TPG. Estimated wealth: $390 million.
Rhonda Wyllie, board member of Wyllie property group. Estimated wealth: $346 million.
Patricia Ilhan, widow of Crazy John’s founder John Ilhan. Estimated wealth $320 million.
Nicole Kidman, actor. Estimated wealth $320 million.
Charlotte Vidor, CEO of the Medina Group.