Family businesses get the female factor

Family businesses get the female factor


The corporate CEO job continues to not look like a job for women. Not because women are any less capable, of course, but rather because so few women are serving in such positions in the first place.

Indeed, the number of female CEOs of ASX 200 companies is still in the single digits. As we recently found on Women’s Agenda, you’re more likely to find a man named Peter than a woman at the helm of our largest companies. 

But away from the big corporates, things are starting to look different.

According to global research from EY this week, women are much more likely to take leadership positions with a family business than they are a non-family business. And large family businesses also appear to be well sold on the contribution women can make to their leadership teams.

The report, Women in leadership — the family business advantage, analysing the 25 largest family businesses in the world’s top 21 markets (including Australia), found that 70% of family businesses were considering and 30% were strongly considering, a woman for the CEO position.

Meanwhile, these 525 businesses averaged five women in the C-suite, and reported having women comprise 22% of the top management team. Fifty five per cent of the businesses surveyed have at least one women on their boards.

This is compared to women holding just 3.9% of CEO positions worldwide and accounting for 12.9% of top management positions, according to EY’s more general global business statistics. Given these general stats already include large family business, the disparity would be even greater if this data was removed.

While the number of women on family business boards averaged just 16% (down slightly on the figure for ASX 200 boards, but higher than the ASX generally), it found that 8% of boards were at least 50% female.

EY calls these large family businesses the “anchors” of the world economy, with family businesses in general generating an estimated 70 to 90% of global GDP.

As EY Americas’ Family Business Leader Carrie Hall comments in the report: “These are businesses that welcome women into leadership, and it’s no coincidence that they also are innovative, flexible, focused and growing for centuries. They are a model for stewardship – for handing over a business that is better to those that follow them.”


So what’s working?

According to the research, many of the family businesses shared a number of key factors:

1.Role Models. By having at least one woman in the C-suite and on the board, they’re automatically showcasing role-models to less-senior women and showing what’s possible within the organisation.
2.Long-term thinking. EY found family businesses are often focused on the “long time horizon”. This helps eliminate conscious and unconscious bias, opening space for women at the top.
3.Inclusive environments. These businesses balance the interests of family with the needs of the business, offering more inclusive environments that are generally committed to the wellbeing of family and the family enterprise. The emphasis is on people over profits, and it helps that these businesses are built on relationships.

They’re all things that could certainly benefit corporates in attaining and retaining great female talent.


This article was originally published on Women’s Agenda.


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