The power of women in family business

Today is March 8, International Women’s Day. On this day, the world comes together to shine a spotlight on the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, as well as the obstacles that continue to undermine gender equality in the workplace and other critical domains.

First, some good news: there have been significant strides in recent decades, as numerous research studies attest. By some statistics, in women in the U.S. own 42% of privately held businesses and collectively employ over 9.4 million people. Moreover, from 2012-2019, gross receipts of women-owned employer firms outpaced men-owned, growing by nearly 52% compared to 34%.

Globally, these numbers are far lower. Female entrepreneurship currently stands at 11% following a 7-point uptick in 60-plus countries over the last two years. In Spain, only 4.5% of entrepreneurs are women. Despite being highly equipped and educated – more than half hold university degrees – women find fewer opportunities and facilities compared to other European countries according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.

In the start-up space, advances toward greater diversity and equality remain equally lackluster. Based on a 2018 HBS-Columbia University study, divergent gender-based attitudes might be to blame. In their research, the authors analyzed start-up funding competitions with 200-plus companies over a six-year timeframe. Their conclusion: venture capitalists used vastly different approaches in their questioning depending on the gender of who was pitching.

Using audio and video transcripts, they found men were typically given a platform to share their visions, inspirations and future plans – and subsequently attract more funding. Women, by contrast, were more likely to be put on the defensive, fielding inquiries on potential losses, liabilities and market threats. It should come as no surprise that their success rates in securing funding fell far short of their male counterparts.

Most studies to date have examined women’s experiences and contributions in the broader business landscape, as well as the persistent gender-wage gap – even for jobs that are substantially the same.

But what about women in the realm of family business? Far less is known in this domain – a surprising fact considering the critical contribution of family firms to the global economy. In the current body of research, women’s contributions in this realm are often described as “hidden” or “invisible” in their roles as “chief emotional officers” and guardians of family traditions and values.

Among its salient conclusions, the STEP 2019 Global Family Business survey highlighted the need for women to gain greater visibility to avoid being overlooked, as well as for leadership teams comprising both men and women to ensure long-term corporate growth. Women remain underrepresented in senior-level roles, making it crucial to better understand their contributions and the factors impeding their ascent to top leadership.

Also key: more systematic and extensive research on women’s performance and leadership in family businesses. Family firms account for more than 70% of global GDP, yet there is scant research on their gender-diversity dynamics and how these might influence their leadership, management and corporate performance.

In the coming months, with colleagues Prof. Carmen Paz-Aparicio and researcher and lecturer María Rodríguez-García, we aim to shed more light on women in family business by exploring three notable phenomena: the presence of women in leadership positions, their influence on pro-organizational behavior and their impact on non-financial performance.

As followers of this blog, you will be among the first to learn about our findings. In the meantime, my hopes for an International Women’s Day to observe both the milestones achieved and the objectives that remain on the horizon.


Homepage image: Thought Catalog on Unsplash