James Thomson Editor

James Thomson is the editor of BRW. Previously he was editor and publisher of SmartCompany and a senior editor at Business Spectator. He writes regularly on Australia's wealthiest entrepreneurs and has deep expertise in small business and the mid market.

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Taking on the glass ceiling: Life’s lessons from rich women

Published 06 March 2013 23:58, Updated 08 March 2013 08:12

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Taking on the glass ceiling: Life’s lessons from rich women

Lorna Jane Clark is one of the better-known names on the first BRW Rich Women list, but many list members keep a relatively low profile. Photo: Fairfax Media

Equality might be improving in many parts of the business world, but the glass ceiling hanging over Australia’s rich list is one that doesn’t show signs of chipping, let alone cracking.

Each year it is the same story – just a handful of women make the BRW Rich 200 list and even fewer make the obvious feeder list, our Young Rich list.

Indeed, the numbers aren’t just criminally low by national standards – we are lagging the world. According to BRW analysis, just 4 per cent of the top 100 entrants on the Rich 200 is made up of women. If we look at the US, the proportion is more like 14 per cent. In Britain, it’s more like 11 per cent.

That’s not to say there aren’t amazing female entrepreneurs doing great things in this county and to mark International Women’s Day on March 8, we’ve created our inaugural Rich Women list to highlight and celebrate them. The list features 30 women with more than $30 million in net assets. It’s a diverse and exciting list of self-made women (as we do with our Young Rich list, we have excluded those who inherited from previous generations).

At the top is Vicky Teoh, the mysterious co-founder of telco rising star TPG who along with husband David has built a $2 billion business in less than 20 years.

The list also features many of Australia’s best known entrepreneurs and businesswomen, including Carolyn Creswell, Gail Kelly, Charlotte Vidor and Lorna Jane Clark.

It’s a great collection of business leaders, many of whom fly under the radar. But just as exciting for us is the fact that we’ve managed to do something that has rarely been done before - get some of these women to talk about their wealth.

I’ve been covering the rich for more than a decade and have found a deep reluctance on the part of successful women to talk about the numbers around their business – revenue, profit, growth rates – and particularly wealth.

But to mark our first Rich Women list we’ve convinced a few to reveal the secrets to their success and the challenges they’ve faced in getting to the top.

The stories are illuminating.

The legendary Imelda Roche talks about how her bank manager wouldn’t give her a loan until he had met her husband.

Boost Juice founder Janine Allis discusses the challenges of juggling four children and a rapidly growing business.

Queensland entrepreneur Sarina Russo recalls starting her business after being sacked from a series of jobs, and how she used her crisis to do the extraordinary.

A few themes emerge. Female entrepreneurs need strong family support networks and access to child care to balance motherhood with business. They need access to capital. And they need great mentors and role models.

We hope you enjoy our special women’s issue. In additions to our Rich Women’s list you’ll find a fantastic collection of pieces celebrating and discussing the power of women in the Australian economy, including the practical experience of companies that have set quotas for women in their senior ranks.

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