Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better: Diversity In Family Businesses

Gender Diversity In Family-Owned Businesses

So much in the news today is centered around diversity in the workplace. While family-owned businesses grow and thrive in the current culture, they are not immune to other organizations’ challenges. Addressing the topic of diversity is not a new hurdle either. Of course, much of the debate is unwarranted when “true merit” dictates roles within an organization. 

Statistically speaking, based on anecdotal evidence solely, women have and remain to be in the minority when it comes to roles of leadership within organizations. While the number cited in journals and articles, like the one we are looking at today, the number hovers around 17% of businesses having women in leadership roles in North America, compared to much larger proportions in European and Latin American countries, suggesting, perhaps, that the U.S. is a little behind the curve. 

Regardless of the statistics, introspect is perhaps the best advantage for family-owned companies in a unique position to look beyond superficial, stereotypical limiters. Family businesses can groom and prepare individuals with insights made tangible by virtue of relationships and experiences with individuals irrespective of gender, giving family-owned firms an advantage over their public counterparts. 

By having a pool of candidates for leadership generated by the fruit of the family tree, companies can recognize talent within before ever having to consider importing leaders from without. Failure to acknowledge the wealth of talent women bring based upon antiquated “non-policies” regarding women is not only short-sighted but regarded by many today as unethical, and in some cases, illegal. Putting aside the notion of misogyny; some businesses are, unwittingly, missing out on the opportunity to experience a revolution in leadership which the individual brings to the table without regard to their gender. 

Several of my clients realize that their best leaders for succession could be the daughter and not the son. The sons tend to work in the family business at an early age at low-level jobs and work their way up the organization – rarely leaving the family business. The daughters typically have minimal if any time in the company and seek higher education and other, worldly, experiences with travel, volunteering, and the like. The daughters will get practical experience at non- family employers for many years. Daughters will have more broad work experience, sharper skills, and practical leadership skills. Often, the daughters do not want to have an operational role at the business; however, they make great Board members with their strategic mindset and family values to govern the company at the Board of Directors seats.

In a recent article by Barbara Spector, Spector writes about gender diversity in family businesses. She states,

Though more opportunities for women in family firms have opened since the 1980s, it’s still rare for a woman to be named to a top business leadership role.”

In her article entitled Gender parity in family business; How long till we get there, Spector challenges the antiquated ideas that once faced women in the workplace. She notes that, while things have improved in subsequent years, “Even so, studies indicate family businesses are still a long way from achieving gender parity.” Spector notes that for some women, the only “in” they have is through governance, but that the shift from being a member of a family council to being an active board member is a difficult challenge. 

Spector goes on to bring a compelling argument for the need for cultural change within family businesses by sharing stories of individuals who have overcome diversity challenges within family governed companies. 

To see the article in full context in its entirety, visit Family Business Magazine.

For more information on finding the best roles for family members within your organization, contact Rob Ferguson today! Rob has vast experience with family leadership succession planning, as well as leadership enhancement.

  1. Gender parity in family business; How long till we get there

For a little levity, we thought you might enjoy this classic clip courtesy of Irving Berlins, Annie Get Your Gun.