Inside the female billionaires’ club (and what it says about how women make their money in 2021)

Out of all this came Bumble, an app that allows women to message men first, which Wolfe has said she was motivated to create by a wish to end the “misogyny” of the dating market.

“So many of the smart, wonderful women in my life were still waiting around for men to ask them out, to take their numbers or to start up a conversation on a dating app,” she explains on her company’s website. “For all the advances women had been making in workplaces and corridors of power, the gender dynamics of dating and romance still seemed so outdated. I thought, what if I could flip that on its head?” Bumble now has more than 100 million users worldwide, while Wolfe Herd is now married to a man she did not meet on a dating app (businessman Michael Herd), which might be the only old-fashioned part of her story. 

Like the tech bros of Silicon Valley, Wolfe Herd works punishing hours. “I get no downtime,” she once said. “I don’t get a weekend.” This, however, might have changed since her son Bobby, now one, arrived. The family split their time between their two Texas homes and travel a lot, for both business and pleasure. In true young-billionaire style, Wolfe Herd celebrated her 30th birthday with a party on a yacht off Capri in Italy.

Elsewhere on the list, the American reality TV and social media star Kim Kardashian makes an equally modern addition. The 40-year-old enters at number 2,674, with an estimated fortune of $1 billion. Her wealth comes from two businesses – KKW Beauty and Skims clothing – plus her TV show, endorsement deals and smaller investments. “Not bad for a girl with no talent,” she has said of herself.

Her success illustrates the riches to be found at the top of the self-promotion game for a lucky few women, and has spawned a generation of copycats inspired by the lavish Los Angeles lifestyle of America’s selfie queen. Married to rapper Kanye West, Kardashian lives with her four children in a mansion said to be worth a cool $60 million.

But for all the 21st century fairytales dotted through the female billionaire list, less progress in gender equality has been made than meets the eye. Scan through the names of the 10 richest women in the world and you’ll notice none has built their own fortunes from scratch. From Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, 67, the French heir to the L’Oreal empire and richest woman in the world, with a net worth of $73.6 billion, to the American MacKenzie Scott, 50, who owes her position as third richest woman in the world to her divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the most reliable routes to immense wealth appear to remain either birth or marriage.

“It’s a bit depressing,” says Professor Heather McGregor, head of the business school at Heriot-Watt University and member of the British honours committee for the economy. “If you go through person by person, they’ve either divorced someone, they’re someone’s daughter, ex-wife, granddaughter or widow, and so it’s all derived wealth. I’m not saying these people don’t do well when they’ve got that, but it is very challenging to know why there aren’t more people [who have created their own wealth].”

This pattern is reflected in Britain, where the two richest women also inherited their fortunes. Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken, 66, is the wealthiest woman based here, with a net worth of $16.7 billion, followed by Kirsten Rausing, the 68-year-old TetraPak heiress, whose net worth is $13.9 billion.

Denise Coates, number three on the British list, is the richest self-made British woman, with a $6.5 billion fortune from the online gambling company Bet365, of which she is co-chief executive. The 53-year-old mother-of-five (of whom four siblings were adopted from the same family) from Stoke-on-Trent trained as an accountant, took over the Coates’ betting shops and became managing director at 22. She then sold them and launched her online bookie firm in 2001. It became the biggest private sector employer in her home city, and facilitates more than $65 billion in bets annually.

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Inside the female billionaires’ club (and what it says about how women make their money in 2021)

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