Family businesses embrace women in senior roles

Güler Sabanci, chairman and CEO of Haci Omer Sabanci Holding. Image: WEF
Güler Sabanci, chairman and CEO of Haci Omer Sabanci Holding. Image: WEF

A survey of global family businesses suggests most of them are thinking about appointing a woman as their next CEO. They are also appointing more females to senior roles in their businesses.

The EY and Kennesaw State University’s Cox Family Enterprise Center survey, which also looked at succession, governance and branding, found that 70% of the world’s biggest family businesses are considering a woman for their next CEO. The surveyed businesses have an average of five women in senior roles and another four are being groomed for top leadership positions. More than half (55%) have at least one woman on their board.

Also, women are achieving more power at family businesses then they are at non-family businesses, the professional services group said. The EY survey is backed up by research done in 2013 in the UK that found that 80% of family owned businesses are more gender balanced, having at least one female director. That compares with just 17% with a female director at companies listed on the UK’s main stock market index, the FTSE 100.

Prominent women in senior roles at family businesses include Güler Sabanci, chairman and managing director of Turkish conglomerate Haci Omer Sabanci Holding; Marie-Christine Coisne-Roquette, executive chairman of French electrical firm Sonepar; and Melissa Potter, CEO of British shoe company Clarks.

Pointing to research that says businesses with more women in senior roles outperform those which do not, EY also said that family businesses are poised to reap performance benefits.

“It’s hard to ignore the mounting evidence that more gender-balanced leadership teams correlate with better business performance,” says EY’s partner Kate Barton. “There are fascinating studies of the different ways in which women and men assess risk and make decisions that reinforce the conclusion that promoting gender equality is just smart business. I’m not suggesting that one is right and one is wrong, but diversity leads to balance, and balance — particularly when considering risk — is healthy business.”

The survey also found that women family members are showing a greater interest in joining the business. “Our research implies that women are welcome in these family businesses — apparently more so than in other corporate environments,” said EY.

EY surveyed more than 2,000 global family businesses for the report, which is entitled: Staying power: how do family businesses create lasting success?