What role do you play in the family and in the business?

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Are you an owner, CEO, oresident, CFO, vice president of marketing or human resources, manager or all of the above — in addition to be being a wife, mother, stepmother, widow, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister and/or sister-in-law?
It is tricky to navigate all of the roles women in family-owned businesses fill. Even in 2015, the onus of childcare, housework, meal preparation and overall domestic duties falls to women. Juggling roles is hard and doing so within a family business brings its own unique set of challenges.
Indeed, how many women in family owned businesses have heard this? “Your brother can stay late, why can’t you?” To which, one of our next generation female leaders replied, “because I don’t have a wife!” Or, “I have to pay your brother more because he has a family to support” — even though the female family business member is married with children as well.
There are no easy answers
One way to mitigate confusion over a woman’s place in the family business is to discuss roles and expectations early, clearly and often.
This way, everyone is clear about qualifications and job descriptions and duties. Because these conversations don’t happen enough, the biggest hurdle for women in family owned businesses is earning respect. Women who enter their family business must work harder to downplay “daddy’s little girl” or “the boss’s wife” because the first assumption among many is that the women entered the business through blood or marriage, NOT through qualifications.
Language is a barrier, too. Small, seemingly innocuous words contribute to the inability of women in family-owned businesses to shed stereotypes and successfully juggle their roles as employees and family members.
For example, often when founders or the managing generation refers to the family members, it’s “the men” and “the girls.” This is automatically demeaning and puts the women on a lower level of perceived maturity as their male peers. One of our members had a vendor refer to her as “little lady.” She worked hard to ensure he did not keep their business! Can you imagine that same vendor referring to the founder’s son as “little buddy?” No. So, it should be equally unacceptable that he called the founder’s daughter “little lady.”
Here’s a few statistics to keep in mind:

  • 24 percent of family businesses in the U.S. are woman-led.
  • 31 percent of family-owned businesses in the U.S. are currently transitioning to become woman-led.
  • 60 percent of top management team positions in family-owned businesses in the U.S. are held by women.

That’s a whole lot of women navigating family roles, professional roles and the minefield that sometimes presents itself when the two collide in family business!
There are no easy answers on how to juggle roles
Women have been trying for a long, long time to get this right! My best piece of advice is to discuss and define roles, and to commit fully to the business and show your dedication by producing top quality work.
One of the hallmarks of family business is flexible work schedules, but do not fall into what I call the “unproductive trap.” It’s easy to drift away from work by taking advantage of a flex work schedule, not to mention your position in the family.

Utilize self-discipline to show others that you are committed to and engaged in the family business. This will go a long way to fighting stereotypes and to help you earn the respect of your family members and co-workers.

Until next time,
Bea Wolper
Bea Wolper is president of the law firm of Emens & Wolper Law Firm, where her practice focuses on succession planning, estate planning, oil and gas law, contracts and the buying and selling of assets and businesses, with an emphasis on family-owned businesses. She is also the co-founder of the Conway Center for Family Business.