Evolving Gender Roles in Family Business
Sometimes family businesses don’t get enough credit for the societal leadership they so often exhibit.
The long-term view that they bring to the way they plan, strategize and operate, make them a special subset of businesses in general.
For example, many people instantly recognize that family business leaders are often great philanthropists, especially in their local areas.
There’s another area that I’m starting to notice more and more where family businesses are taking an important leadership role, and that’s gender balance.
When looking at any such leadership role, you might think about the intent of any of these leaders, and imagine that there’s some concentrated effort on their part.
But family businesses don’t typically get together and decide that family businessess should do this or that.
They decide what’s best for their family, and once it turns out that many of them are doing the same thing, the leadeship trend emerges.
Wife, Daughter, Sister, Niece
It seems to me that family businesses are leading the way in the area of gender balance in management and leadership roles.
My evidence is anecdotal, based on things that I read and come across on various forms of media.
But it also doesn’t surprise me either.
When it comes time to decide which person to promote to a key position, a high performing woman is less likely to be overlooked when she also happens to be the daughter, sister, cousin or niece of one of the leaders.
My Own Backyard
Perhaps it’s because family businesses have always had a tendency to promote from within, that it’s more natural that any strong woman will be given more of a chance.
When I just think about my own daughter and nieces, as well as my wife and sisters, I know that they are at least as qualified as any man in their roles, and usually much more so.
Evolving Business Styles
It might also have something to do with the way that businesses are being run in less of an old-fashioned, authoritarian way.
The “macho male” attitude doesn’t seem to cut it like it used to, certainly not in the North American culture I’m most familiar with.
A softer touch, more inclusive leadership styles, and more democratic decision-making styles all seemingly play into the trend.
The traditional family roles of wife and mother versus husband and father have also changed a lot over the past few decades and generations.
The “stay-at-home parent” isn’t as much of a staple as it was when I was a kid and everyone went home from school for a nice lunch that Mom was busy making.
Those days are long gone.
Even in cases where one parent makes the conscious choice of taking a career break in order to take on child-raising full time, it isn’t always the mother.
And with couples having children at a later age, the eventual return to the work force can also be an easier fit for a mother who decides to go back to a family business.
While it may be too early to say Goodbye to primogeniture, things are being done in family businesses today that were pretty inconceivable just a few decades ago.
It isn’t just the gender balance either; there are more and more sibling teams running things as more or less equals, with a trend to title sharing like naming a brother-sister team as “Co-Presidents”.
If any two people could pull that off properly, I’d bet on a sibling team anytime.
Soft Skills in a Family Business
I’m not sure this is a 100% true statement, but it seems to me that the “softer skills”, like getting along, democratic decision making, open communication, authenticity and teamwork are even more important in family businesses.
But just because these skills may be more “necessary” there, does that mean we will find them there?
I’m not sure I could make that case strongly; but what I can say is that a family business where the people have those skills, and have things structured for those skills to shine, will be the ones that thrive.
A family business will only remain one as long as the family can agree enough to hold onto it.
Having the kinds of people in charge to make this happen will require diverse groups going forward.
Bet on it, sister!
Between when I first drafted this blog and when I was wrapping it up, my friend and FFI colleague Carrie Hall published this piece which complements it nicely: