Family business & daughters: Will more women take the lead?

17 July 2015

Bruce Hatcher |

Over the past few decades, women have emerged as powerful minds and leaders, excelling in the classroom and in the professional landscape.

Will we be seeing more family businesses with ‘& Daughters’ in their names? 

Next generation: Women leaders in family business 

In Australia, like elsewhere in the world, women are increasingly making careers out of commerce, engineering, trades and other specialties, and they're taking on key roles. Often, they graduate at the top of their class and have risen to management positions because they excel at their jobs.

Studies, such as the McKinsey Global Survey, revealed that gender diversity among company leaders can be advantageous for organisations, even if firms have a long way to go in developing a balanced boardroom. Additionally, a recent Italian study found having more women on boards and in executives roles may boost the profitability of family businesses. According to an article in Business Spectator, the research revealed that companies with female CEOs and board members were 18 per cent more profitable than firms with only men at the helm.

A 2011 report by the University of Wollongong noted that an increasing number of women have started their own firms, displaying an entrepreneurial spirit and representing a greater percentage of the workforce in general, compared to past decades.

However, women still frequently face significant challenges when it comes to advancing in their careers. Within family businesses, they sometimes aren't taken as seriously because of expectations they'll get married and have children. Furthermore, research sponsored by BDO revealed that the path women take to leadership roles in family businesses differs from that of their male counterparts, often being less strategic, planned and streamlined.

As a result, it may be more difficult and less common for daughters to rise to the top of their families' enterprises - even if they're equally prepared to lead by the time they get there.  

A case for meritocracy

This is not to say that we need measures to mandate equality. Particularly with family businesses, succession decisions are complicated and shouldn't be carried out for one gender or another.

In fact, breaking down some traditional assumptions and ‘rules’ is what could really help here - both in terms of supporting a stronger presence for women and for the benefit of the enterprises themselves. As a whole, family businesses need to focus on goals and merit in order to thrive, especially when it comes to selecting the next generation of leaders.

Instead of assuming the company should be passed down to the eldest son - as old models dictated - stakeholders should examine the strengths and interests of all parties involved. And in many cases, that means a daughter may be the most appropriate candidate.