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Whether in the home or in business, segregating roles on the basis of gender has a long history, going as far back as the Industrial Revolution. I would suggest that a very different and reformative revolution is underway today, and it demonstrates the powerful influence that women in family businesses are having.

There is recognition that society is changing, as is education and children’s upbringing, and GenX and Millennial women are stepping up in family businesses, including those in traditionally male-dominated industries. For example, young Millennial women like Jodi Bloomer, Cofounder of Canadian Fiber Optics, are playing instrumental roles in setting this new direction. “In this case, being a woman has had advantages because the men around me don’t need to try to intimidate me,” she told us, “I am not challenging to them. I acknowledge that they know more than me in their own special areas; that I am here to learn, and I need their expertise and input to make good decisions for our company. There is a mutual appreciation for what each of us does well.”

Gaining a fresh perspective on the future

Because of societal bias and cultural or family traditions in some areas of the world, women have often been consigned to the role of ‘chief emotional officer’ in their family firms. In this hidden ‘CEO’ role, they take care of the emotional needs of the family, keeping the family together and perpetuating the family’s values and traditions across the generations.

Men have traditionally been associated with traits such as independence, autonomy and achievement, while women have generally been classified as nurturing and caring.

However, traditional feminine characteristics such as loyalty, concern, sensitivity to the needs of others, problem-solving and conflict resolution represent a holistic and constructive leadership style for both women and men. In a family business, this leadership style can be an asset because it combines loyalty to the firm and the family with a sensitivity to individuals’ needs, as well as a collaborative decision-making approach that is based on instinct, intuition and evidence.

In fact, encouraging a diversity of views and approaches can have tremendous power in helping to move family businesses toward more interesting and prosperous futures. And women and men have an opportunity to strengthen their family businesses by embracing their differences rather than fighting against them; in benefitting from the talent, knowledge and skills that each can contribute.

While the glass ceiling may not yet be shattered, I believe that there is a new generation of women in family business who are blazing their own trail. They are too busy looking forward to look up at the ceiling, and they are likely to be the role models for many female and male family business leaders of the future.


The excerpt was taken from KPMG in Canada National Private Enterprise Leader Mary Jo Fedy’s blog entitled Breaking Glass Ceilings.