The richest and the bosses among women of the world

This year’s World Economic Forum ends today in Davos, Switzerland. And what is not in dispute is that the majority elite of the world – the super rich and powerful men – have hogged the show.

This year’s World Economic Forum ends today in Davos, Switzerland. And what is not in dispute is that the majority elite of the world – the super rich and powerful men – have hogged the show.

The men would be interesting to talk about in a subject where global poverty or lack of it has been the running theme. But it is the women who appear to be the novelty.

The run-up to the WEF – which convenes global leaders from across business, government, international organizations, academia and civil society – saw a slew of statistics, some of which brought women to the fore.

The statistics included the surprising trend of global inequality by Oxfam International projecting that by next year, 1 per cent of the world’s population will own more wealth than the other 99 per cent.

Others illuminated on where your boss is most likely to be a woman by the International Labour Organisation, or who the richest woman in the world currently is according to Wealth-X and UBS Billionaire Census 2014.

Let us start with Oxfam, whose Executive Director is our own East African, Winnie Byanyima, a Ugandan. She was one of the six co-chairs at this year’s WEF.

Speaking to the British newspaper The Guardian, she said: “I was surprised to be invited to be a co-chair at Davos because we are a critical voice. We go there to challenge these powerful elites. It is an act of courage to invite me.”

A study on global inequality by her charity organization shows that the share of the world’s wealth owned by the most affluent 1 per cent increased from 44 per cent in 2009 to 48 per cent in 2014, while the least well-off 80 per cent currently own just 5.5 per cent.

The richest 1 per cent will own more than 50 per cent of the world’s wealth by 2016.

Extreme inequality, Byanyima observed, is not just an accident or a natural rule of economics. It is the result of policies of which the inequality can be reduced with different policies.

She urged the billionaires and politicians gathered in Davos to take steps to narrow the gap between rich and poor.

And, speaking of billionaires – dollar billionaires, that is – there are 2,325 of them in the world, according to the Wealth-X and UBS Billionaire Census 2014. Of these 286 are women, comprising just over 12 per cent of the total.

The billionaire women have an average age of 61 years, with the richest of them being Christy Walton with an estimated worth of $37.9 billion. She is the widow of John Walton, son of founder of the supermarket chain Walmart, Sam Walton.

Forty of the world’s billionaires are African, with the richest female on the continent being the Nigerian oil, fashion, and printing tycoon Folorunsho Alakija.

Estimated to be worth $1.2 billion, the self-made billionaire is now the richest black woman in the world, taking over from the American talk-show host, Oprah Winfrey.

This brings us to the ILO study on where your boss is most likely to be a woman. On average, nearly a third of all businesses around the world are now owned or managed by women.

The surprise, however, is that Europe or North America do not even make the top ten of countries with the highest female bosses.

Of the 106 countries for which the ILO found data, Jamaica takes the cake with 59.3 per cent of all managers being women, followed by Colombia with 53 per cent and the Caribbean island, Saint Lucia, with 52.3 per cent.

Closer to home, Rwanda takes the candle with 34 per cent of all managers being women, which may not be surprising given its record of gender-friendly policies. It is followed by Tanzania with 16.5 per cent and Uganda at 20.2 per cent.

To come back to WEF 2015, it would only be fitting to conclude with a remark by one of the prominent female global leaders at the meeting, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “Freedom does not mean being free of something, but to be free to do something.”

May the women of the world continue to realise their potential in business, government and all the other sectors.

The writer is a commentator on local and regional issues.

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