Should women seek a career in the family business?

Business Leader Post, February 14, 2014

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D

Women have always played a role in family owned businesses. My great grandfather and great grandmother started a mattress factory around the turn of the last century. He stuffed, and she sewed—or it could have been the other way around. Anecdotally, I have worked with many family businesses in which a high a percentage of wives, sisters, daughters and mothers played a role in the business, from secretaries to managers to owners and CEO’s. It has been my experience that even when they did not have formal roles and titles, other women “worked” in the family business. Mothers, for example, play a vital role in the family. By definition, they play a critical role in the family owned businesses.

Frequently, formal positions were gender-biased; and consequently, the woman’s skill set was undervalued. I chose to empower them, sometimes by facilitating a change in their position, but more frequently, by including them in the consultation process in order to take advantage of their business perspective as well as their relationship skills.

The gender issue remains and still has to be addressed within the family business. However, the idea that a family member’s value and the strength that she brings both to the family and to the business is the ultimate criteria of her worth, regardless of gender, can be more easily adopted in the family business versus in the nonfamily business world.

The world is changing. An interesting study sponsored by Mass Mutual and the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership at Babson College found that 9% of CEO’s in general were women while 25% of CEO’s in family businesses were women, with a prediction that within the next 5 years, 37% of CEO’s in the family business would be women. These statistics show that women have more opportunity in the family business.

In addition, the freedom that a family business offers in terms of having control over a woman’s life and her struggles to balance her responsibilities to her family and the business are more manageable.