With the GenX and Millennial generations firmly established in the workforce, a fresh mindset is continuing to pick up speed and take hold in many family businesses. Women in business families are rising into leadership roles as the business value that can be achieved through a diversity of views, experiences and management styles becomes increasingly evident.

This more inclusive leadership mindset isn’t idealistic or simply the result of changing demographics and the influence of Millennials, however. It’s also extremely pragmatic. As several studies have shown, women in senior roles generate better business performance, which is believed to be the result of their superior governance practices and overall effectiveness.1

As my colleague, Daniel Trimarchi, Director, Family Business Global Network, KPMG Private Enterprise, pointed out in the recent podcast “Understanding Perspectives and Redefining Gender Roles in the Family Business”, moderated by Orbis Terra Media CEO Ramia El Agamy, 50 percent of the population is female, so how can it possibly make good business sense not to draw on the talents and skills of female family members for the good of the family business?

Opportunity costs and the gender gap

I echo Daniel’s sentiment. In my experience, overlooking women for management and leadership roles in the family business is not only a missed opportunity, it also represents a major opportunity cost when such potentially powerful resources are left untapped.

To gather more insights about the benefits of engaging female family members in leadership roles – and the opportunity cost of not doing so – KPMG Private Enterprise and the STEP Project Global Consortium joined forces to hear directly from female and male family business leaders about the impact of changing demographics on women’s roles in their businesses.

Through an initial survey, followed by in-person interviews, we listened to the personal experiences of female and male family business leaders, the challenges that women face in family businesses and the opportunities they see on the horizon. Their important insights are captured in the KPMG Private Enterprise and STEP Project Global Consortium co-authored article titled “The power of women in family business: A generational shift in purpose and values.”

The rebalancing act

From female family business CEOs, we heard general agreement on many issues that affect women in all types of businesses, and those that are most relevant in the family business model. They described, for example, about being raised to be sensitive to the needs of others and more social as a mother, peacekeeper and overall caretaker of the family. They emphasized how the importance of empathy and emotional sensitivity within business families has been embedded across multiple generations. As a consequence, women in family businesses have often been consigned to the role of the firm’s “chief emotional officer”. While it isn’t constructive to assign them exclusively to that role, it also isn’t practical to attempt to eliminate empathy from women’s nature.

Women in family businesses are not alone. In all walks of life and different types of roles, women are frequently faced with conflicting priorities that make it necessary to perform a delicate balancing act between their obligations at work and at home.

I understand those challenges firsthand as a Managing Director at work and a “CEO” on the home front, balancing the needs of two children under the age of 11, and the new role of homeschool “teacher” over the last year. And so, I was intrigued to hear a new perspective on this balancing act from several female family business CEOs who took part in our interviews.

They described how they have achieved an extraordinary ability to juggle many things simultaneously precisely because of the multiple roles that they play; that this has helped them fine-tune their skill for concentrating on details while not losing sight of the big picture; that they can make decisions quickly when needed, be disciplined in making tough decisions, while also making them with an appropriate level of empathy.

Picking up speed: a new style of leadership

Changing demographics have undoubtedly played a role in the contributions of women in family businesses, especially when more women from the GenX and Millennial generations began to enter the workforce and demonstrated what they are capable of achieving. Only time will tell what the post-Millennial GenZ generation will contribute.

In my experience, the women of these latest generations are seizing the leadership reins. They have become skilful at defining how the family business should operate, not waiting for the business to define who they are and the role that they’re allowed to play. They have defined that for themselves and are delivering the level of business performance that is redefining what success looks like under a new style of leadership.

I can’t think of a better day than International Women’s Day 2021 to celebrate the successes and share the experiences of women who are redefining their roles and contributions in business and society.

If you love hearing their stories as much as I do, I invite you to read the inspiring personal and business profiles of women who are leading family businesses worldwide and have generously shared their experiences and insights in the article, “The power of women in family business: a generational shift in purpose and influence”.

I’d love to hear your story as well, and I hope that you’ll reach out and connect with me directly at mailto:melanyeli@kpmg.ca


1 Terjesen, Couto, & Francisco, 2016