Most of the women on the Sunday Times richlist owe their fortunes to their parents or husbands

No cause for celebration.

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 £740m fortune to a lucrative split with Bernie) — the first self-made female richlister is Elena Baturina.

Baturina 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.

This article forst appeared on Spear's

The first self-made female richlister is Elena Baturina. Photograph: Getty Images

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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I dined behind the Houses of Parliament in my sexually connected foursome

My wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple. We did not always check the significance of the date. 

I am self-employed and find that working from home, setting your own schedule, the days generally blur into each other, with weekends holding no significance, and public holidays, when those who are employed in factories, offices or shops get time off, meaning nothing. I am often surprised to go out and find the streets empty of traffic because it is some national day of observance, such as Christmas, that I wasn’t aware of. I find myself puzzled as to why the shops are suddenly full of Easter eggs or pancake batter.

Growing up in a Communist household, we had a distinct dislike for this kind of manufactured marketing opportunity anyway. I remember the time my mother tried to make me feel guilty because I’d done nothing for her on Mother’s Day and I pointed out that it was she who had told me that Mother’s Day was a cynical creation of the greetings card monopolies and the floral industrial complex.

Valentine’s Day is one of those I never see coming. It’s the one day of the year when even the worst restaurants are completely booked out by couples attempting to enjoy a romantic evening. Even those old-fashioned cafés you’ll find still lurking behind railway stations and serving spaghetti with bread and butter will tell you there’s a waiting list if you leave it late to reserve a table.

In the late 1980s my wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple, he a writer and she a TV producer. One particular place we liked was a restaurant attached to a 1930s block of flats, near the Houses of Parliament, where the endless corridors were lined with blank doors, behind which you sensed awful things happened. The steel dining room dotted with potted palm trees overlooked a swimming pool, and this seemed terribly sophisticated to us even if it meant all your overpriced food had a vague taste of chlorine.

The four of us booked to eat there on 14 February, not realising the significance of the date. We found at every other table there was a single couple, either staring adoringly into each other’s eyes or squabbling.

As we sat down I noticed we were getting strange looks from our fellow diners. Some were sort of knowing, prompting smiles and winks; others seemed more outraged. The staff, too, were either simpering or frosty. After a while we realised what was going on: it was Valentine’s Day! All the other customers had assumed that we were a sexually connected foursome who had decided to celebrate our innovative relationship by having dinner together on this special date.

For the four of us, the smirking attention set up a strange dynamic: after that night it always felt like we were saying something seedy to each other. “Do you want to get together on Sunday?” I’d say to one of them on the phone, and then find myself blushing. “I’ll see if we can fit it in,” they’d reply, and we would both giggle nervously.

Things became increasingly awkward between us, until in the end we stopped seeing them completely. 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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