That's rich! Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg has become the newest member of an elite club – one that's made up of female billionaires

Would that it weren't so exclusive, though, says Gillian Orr

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, could well be finding herself with a few more friend requests after she became a billionaire this week.

After the world's most popular social network's stock closed at a record high on Tuesday, Sandberg, who owns about 12.3 million shares of the company, found her stake to be valued at $750m (£452m). Along with the $300m (£190m) she has made selling shares since the company's May 2012 initial public offering, the 44-year-old now finds herself one of the youngest female billionaires in the world. It would seem that the woman who was brought in to make Facebook money has made a tidy sum for herself, too.

She joins an elite-but-growing club. Last year, there were 138 women with a 10-figure fortune. That's quite a jump from 104 in 2012, but women still account for fewer than 10 per cent of the world's richest (according to Forbes, there are 1,426 billionaires globally).

So who else is a member – and how did they get there? Most of the world's very wealthiest women inherited their money. The richest, L'Oréal heir Liliane Bettencourt, is worth $30bn (£18b). At 90-years old, Bettencourt suffers from dementia and Alzheimer's, and her fortune has been put under the guardianship of several members of her family. Naturally, it was quite the bun fight.

Oprah Winfrey is the sole African-American billionaire in the US (Getty Images) Oprah Winfrey is the sole African-American billionaire in the US (Getty Images)  

Two members of the Walmart dynasty, Christy and Alice Walton, make up the top three with $28.5bn (£17.2b) and $26.3bn (£15.8) respectively, meaning neither is likely to have to shop at the discount store that bears their name.

But it's the self-made billionaires that are much more fascinating. And there are names both familiar and surprising on the list. The wealthiest self-made woman is a former-seamstress, Rosalia Mera, whose company Inditex is best known for owning Zara.

Other women who have made their billions through fashion include New Yorker Tory Burch (famed for her £200 ballet flats), and 42-year-old Sara Blakely, who in 2012 became the youngest self-made female billionaire thanks to Spanx, her bone-crushing underwear range.

Last October, Oprah was unseated as the richest black woman in the world by the Nigerian oil tycoon Folorunsho Alakija, who boasts a fortune of $7.3bn (£4.4bn) compared with Oprah's paltry $2.9bn (£1.7bn). The TV queen does, however, remain the sole African-American billionaire in the US, male or female.

It is in China where the most women make their fortune, though; more than half of the world's self-made women billionaires hail from there, which is interesting when considering the country's long history of gender discrimination. So, is global business's attitudes to women finally changing?

J K Rowling has given away so much to charity that she no longer makes the cut (Getty Images) J K Rowling has given away so much to charity that she no longer makes the cut (Getty Images)
"I think that it's very encouraging to see the women entrepreneurs who are having success and indeed debuting in the ranks," Luisa Kroll, Forbes' global wealth editor, said.

"And every time one of those happens, it's really quite newsworthy. However, I don't think that we should get all too excited right now because female self-made billionaires make up fewer than 2 per cent of all billionaires.

"It's terrific news when women are able to have such success, and I certainly expect that to significantly increase over the years. But quite honestly, it's such a contrast between the male self-made billionaires that I fully believe there's only one way to go, which is up. We'll only see this continue to happen more and more. But it's a fairly glacial pace of progress."

It's great to hear of women's successful enterprises, but perhaps the most heart-warming tale is actually about a woman who was kicked out of the billionaires' club. In 2012, Forbes announced that J K Rowling was no longer eligible to be included on their list of billionaires; it seemed she had given away so much to charity that she no longer made the cut. Now there's a woman in a billion.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Equity | New York

Not specified: Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Global Equity | New Yor...

Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation

Not specified: Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation This top tiered investment...

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?