Opinion: family enterprises back women leaders

By: David Harland

What is happening in family businesses? Women leaders are being promoted – globally

Opinion: family enterprises back women leaders
David Harland


In an article for Quartz at Work EY’s Carrie Hall writes, "At a time when gender parity remains elusive at all levels of business management, family firms are especially compelling options for women who aspire to lead…".

Referring to the EY global family survey, Carrie Hall continues, "the world’s largest, longest-lasting family businesses are advancing women, including non-family members, further and faster than their non-family counterparts".

This is a bold statement, given that women make up at least 40% of the workforce in 80 countries, and remain greatly underrepresented in leadership roles; but the facts back it.

Results of the 525 largest family businesses surveyed, were that:

  • 30 per cent are strongly considering a woman as the next CEO (vs 4 per cent globally, 5 per cent of Fortune 500 in 2018, and 17 per cent in Australia per the WGEA 2019 media release report)
  • top management team is 22 per cent women (vs 13 per cent globally)
  • board membership is 16 per cent women (vs 13 per cent globally)

What is the mutual attraction between Women and Family Business?

"With greater numbers of women in leadership roles, the world’s largest, most profitable family businesses are thriving".

The reasons identified for this, are linked to the way women lead, by creating:

  • a longer-term approach to management (sustainability vs short-term gains),
  • a more inclusive environment (focus on people, and relationships in addition to profits), and
  • broader goals and purposes (which keep family members and employees engaged)

It is a self-reinforcing activity – as family businesses provide women with the opportunity to develop and expand their leadership talent; the business develops and expands its horizons.

Read how industry leader Julie Russell is going from strength to strength, here

Who are some of the champions of female leadership in family businesses?

Fiona Simson is a farmer from the Liverpool Plains in NSW where she, husband Ed and family run a mixed farming enterprise.

The family farm which began as a sheep property 90 years ago, is now a successful business with a turnover of more than AU$5 million a year.

Named as one of Australia’s most influential entrepreneurs, Fiona led from the front when she became the first woman President of the NSW Farmers' Association; and in 2016 after a four year term, she went on to be elected first female president of the National Farmers' Federation.

Her advice for bridging difficult divides is, "My style is about collaboration and building relationships with people… I focus on what we have in common rather than what we don't."

Vanessa Katsanevakis of Sussex Taps is a director of Sussex Taps in Somerton in Victoria, where she and husband George run a second generation, high-end tapware manufacturer.

Katsanevakis took over the family business, while she was under 30, after her father passed away. Katsanevakis has since guided the business through a period of exponential growth. Sussex Taps now has the distinction of being the only Australian tap manufacturer that controls the process from start to finish.

In 2018 in recognition of young outstanding individuals in the Victorian manufacturing sector (aged 35 or younger), Katsanevakis was awarded The Young Manufacturer of the Year award.

When asked "would you recommend a career in manufacturing to other young women?" Katsanevakis's response was: "The doors are wide open to men and women alike and more than ever are women making their mark. I feel that as a female leader I can add a different angle to a manufacturing business…"

As a business leader, if you do read the above and are still unconvinced; start with opening the doors, and ask, is there perhaps a female family member that may have an interest in helping lead in the family business? Remember that may also include leading the family governance.

David Harland is the managing director of FINH and works exclusively with multigenerational family businesses. He holds both national and international accreditation in the field of family advising and family wealth

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