What the world’s wealthiest, self-made women have in common

A tough rise to the top.
A tough rise to the top.
Image: Reuters/Stephen Lam
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Despite being significantly underrepresented among the wealthy and business elite, more females are making it to the top.

In a recent research paper (pdf), David Lincoln and I used the Wealth-X database to examine some of the characteristics of self-made females who also had net worths of $30 million or higher. We looked at 597 women primarily from the US and UK but also from around the world who were part of a larger study of 18,245 ultra-high net worth individuals. Although all of these self-made females can be considered leaders, 348 of them were chairmen, presidents, CEOs, and founders, what we considered to be top leaders.

To reach these pinnacles, self-made females achieved success at an earlier age, had to be more educationally selected, built a larger network of power than their male counterparts, and perhaps had to be more focused on themselves and their careers.

Here are some interesting facts we’ve uncovered about the wealthiest self-made female leaders:

They are underrepresented overall, by a factor of 30 to 1

Self-made females compose only 3.27% of people with fortunes of $30 million and up. Overall, self-made women are underrepresented by a factor of about 30 to 1. Among leaders, self-made females are 1.70% of chairmen, 2.18% of presidents, 3.67% of CEOs, and 5.77% of founders. Therefore, these women are underrepresented among leaders ranging from factors of 16 to 1 (founders) up to 58 to 1 (chairmen).

They have lower net worths

Self-made women ($288.37 million) have net worths just over half of self-made men ($510.73 million) and the larger sample of 18,245, “everyone else” ($574.74 million). Within chairmen, presidents, CEOs, and founders, self-made women have lower net worths.

They are younger

Self-made females (56.25 years) are roughly four to five years younger, on average, than self-made males (61.32) and everyone else (60.76). Self-made female CEOs and presidents were the youngest at 54 years.

They have a higher number of wealthy connections and network power

When multiplying self-made females’ number of connections and average net worth of those connections—an estimate of network power—they had roughly 1.2 times the network power of self-made males, and 1.4 times the network power of everyone else. Network power rose from founders, presidents, CEOs, up through chairmen.

They are less generous

As a percentage of their net worth, self-made females (5.0%) gave less than self-made males (7.6%) and everyone else (7.5%). US self-made females gave even less, at 2.1%.

They had to be more select to reach the top

Among presidents, chairmen, and especially CEOs, females had to be more select than their male counterparts. Self-made female CEOs (elite school = 42.6%; Harvard = 10.4%) were about 1.3 times as likely to attend an elite school and about 1.8 times as likely to attend Harvard than self-made male CEOs (33.8%; 5.8%) and all CEOs (33.4%; 5.8%). They also had significantly higher network power. This same pattern for elite schools also held for presidents and chairmen, but not for founders.