For men only?
Every year, I take it upon myself to click open the Forbes list of people who hold the bulk of the world’s wealth. As I was reading the first 10 of this year’s Forbes’ billionaire rankings (https://www.forbes.com/billionaires/list), one word came to my mind: “male.” Dear reader, if you are reading this and also clicked open that link, you would know why. Basically, the 10 richest people in the world are aging men, all mostly residing in the United States. Which brings me to ask: Where are the women?
The woman closest to the No. 1 spot is Liliane Bettencourt (No. 14), who owns 33 percent of L’Oréal. Following her are Alice Walton of Wal-Mart (No. 17), Jacqueline Mars, who owns a third of Mars (No. 26), and Maria Franca Fissolo and family of the Ferrero Group (No. 29). Six more women are featured, for a total of 10 women in the entire world who are among its 100 richest.
I can’t help but wonder about this miniscule percentage of women in this testosterone-filled global list. Zooming in on my own country, I find that only six women were able to make it to the “Philippines’ 50 Richest” list this year, again by Forbes. The 10 wealthiest people in the country are all men, of different ages, with varying sources of income.
And the companies and holdings that enable women to be part of the planet’s most affluent seem to have all been started by men, as illustrated by the case of the four richest women in the world. Bettencourt’s fortune comes from a company started by her father. Walton is the daughter of Wal-Mart’s male founder. Mars is the granddaughter of the male founder of her company, and Fissolo is the widow of the man who built the Ferrero Group. The list goes on, with the world’s richest women usually inheritors of their wealth as direct descendants or spouses or widows of men who were able to build empires from scratch.
This is not to say that the exemplary women who make it to these lists are all narrowly defined as heiresses, rich wives, and lucky daughters. Women like the Philippines’ Betty Ang, who started Monde Nissin Corp., prove that females can and are able to establish their own successful companies.
The world has indeed seen an increase in the number of women who are in positions of power. Female CEOs and business heads prove themselves able to propel a failing company to financial success, like Gina
Reinhart (No. 69 in the global list), who managed to turn the tide for her father’s bankruptcy-headed company. Women like her manage to thrive, despite the proliferation of ideas that divert attention from their excellence and the dated belief that women should simply stick to being homemakers.
Regardless, I find it discomforting that I find no women’s names and photographs when I open world’s-wealthiest lists. It is discouraging to see how men still dominate various fields in this day and age, and how sexist views still serve as blocks almost anywhere women go. With the majority of the richest women on Earth inheriting their money, is the world of the affluent then merely operating under a fake feminist society, which acts as though anyone can make it—and make it big—in the field of making money?
Men are traditionally viewed as builders and women as nurturers. Does this dated perspective connect to how the world sees women as able to manage, handle and grow companies, but seldom sees these “nurturers” as able to establish their own empires? Is it because males are generally perceived as more muscular, and therefore built for industry? And that, especially in the Philippines, there is an expectation for women to marry men whose duty it is to be “providers,” so that a woman should just focus on marrying someone who can provide for her financially?
Or maybe the situation simply implies that most women collectively prefer not to go into specific fields as founders. Or does this actually display the lack of opportunities for women to go for male-oriented roles in this “man’s world”? Does this relate to the gender bias that men are perceived as natural leaders while women demonstrating leadership capabilities are viewed as bossy?
To be sure, there are a lot of successful women who are corporate leaders and who have successfully set up their own businesses, amassing large fortunes as they go along. I just hope that more women feel unrestricted and head for those money-generating industries without settling with the idea that they should just work for established companies, just because starting from scratch as women would be difficult.
Sexist notions are harmful ideas that seem to have been etched deep in the human consciousness. Feminism remains an ever-important issue today, but there are still those who assume that women get equal opportunities as men, those who refuse to believe and accept that gender biases exist, and those who brush off remarks of oppression with snide smirks and jokes. I do not deliver these facts to express the opinion that men are of the fairer sex. I am simply entertaining the question and wondering why the world sees John finding gold at the end of the rainbow, and not Jane, who is as capable. The idea that men are more built to be billionaires than women is wholly invalid.
It’s time for the world to level the playing field. It’s not the amount of money but the gender disparity that matters here. Universally, people should be able to climb up these lists and be whoever they want to be, without having to worry about limited opportunities brought about by their status, their background, and, most especially, their gender.
Alyssa Y. Go, 19, is in her second year at the UP Virata School of Business.
Stories from the young Filipino
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