Can Business Family Women Have It All?


Can women succeed in their businesses, lead happy lives, and contribute to the harmony of their families? Scott McCulloch checks out the strategies.

When Canadian entrepreneur Susan Niczowski founded Summer Fresh with her mother in 1992, it offered 18 recipes.

Today, the meals company sells 250 different products throughout North America. Annual revenue is north of $100 million.

As one of Canada’s top female entrepreneurs, Louise Vonk grew her family business Messenger Freight Systems from earning $1 million to $13 million in annual sales.

When Forbes recently listed Steeped Tea founder Tonia Jahshan as one of six entrepreneurial women to watch, it had good reason. Jahshan turned her small business into an empire with over $20 million in annual revenue.

What do these women have in common? They’re driven. But is drive compatible with family?

Recognizing Business Family Women

Challenges persist, according to UBC’s Sauder School of Business. And they’re still based on gender stereotypes and discrimination.

Their work often remains in the shadows

Although family business women are often directly involved in the firm, they seldom hold formal roles. Worse, they get little recognition for contributions.

“Their work often remains in the shadows,” Sauder states in an article, which has led businesses to underestimate women’s family business influence.

Fortunately, there are resources. For example, this Women’s Roles course helps family business women “define an identity within the entrepreneurial family unit” and create action plans.

Nevertheless, EY research suggests that while women in small family businesses may remain somewhat invisible, they’re fundamental to the success of both the firm and the family.

“Our research shows that family businesses believe in the value of women in leadership overall, not only women family members,” says Carrie Hall, EY Americas Family Business Leader.

Business Family Women and Gender Parity

More family business women are taking active roles in family firms – often at the helm, says EY. In public firms, women hold 6% to 13% of top management positions. In family firms, it’s about 22%.

“Family businesses may offer a path forward for all businesses seeking to achieve gender parity within their leadership ranks,” says Hall.

Psychologist and family business consultant Heidi Vermeer-Quist has suggested that “women tend to take on too much” in that they frequently play multiple roles of mother, wife, and family enterprise leader.

Watch the short interview with Heidi Vermeer-Quist and discover the challenges women face in family businesses.

Multitaskers Critical to Success

Women often take on informal roles in family firms as mediators, supporters, and advisors, but research shows that this involvement is nevertheless critical to the ongoing success of both firms and families.

As owners, business family women experience stronger higher family loyalty and goals, and pride in the business, according to Ohio’s Conway Center for Family Business.

Conway also notes that female-owned family firms have a 40% less family member attrition.

Perhaps business family women can just about have it all.

What next for the entrepreneurial women? Maybe doing business in the United Arab Emirates. Learn more.

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