Family owned business lead the way in supporting female entrepreneurship

Research recently released from the Institute for Family Business included data on the leadership of family owned businesses for the first time and it was positive to see that 81% of family owned businesses have females in leadership roles, against just 58% in non-family owned businesses. These figures are based on whether each business has at least one female leader, so digging deeper would likely still show a significant gap, but it got me thinking about what makes family owned businesses more open to female leadership and some of the challenges women face in these roles.

There are four types of female leader in family businesses that I can think of: those born into an existing business, perhaps several generations in; those who buy a family business; those non-family members promoted or recruited into leadership positions and those who start a business with their family, potentially with a view to passing it down the generations.

Each situation has its own challenges. Those born into a family business need to prove their value to the board, with many encouraged to work elsewhere for a while to learn their trade and establish their career. Some may be encouraged into the family business and others may be challenged to show what they can bring. They often have to work much harder than non-family members to prove they deserve their place. Family dynamics can often be challenging – imagine working everyday with your husband, mum, dad or siblings?

Buying a family business can be a great opportunity but may prove challenging when assuming leadership of an organisation that may have sat within the same family’s ownership for several generations. The incoming buyer will want to make their mark without losing the heritage and history that has been built over many years.

Female business leaders recruited or promoted into family owned businesses will also face challenges. There can be a divide between family and non-family leaders and differences in view can be greater. The incoming leaders may have other experiences to bring to the table from the wider market and can often be great drivers of positive change when given the opportunity.

Those females starting a first-generation family owned business face similar challenges to those other female entrepreneurs do, from childcare to securing funding it can be tough building a business. However in a family owned business, having a clear view that you are building something for the next generation can help bring focus and lead the values of a new business.

My interest and passion for supporting family-owned businesses led Muckle Media to launch a new arm – Relative PR – which offers specialist communications support to family owned businesses. I’m really looking forward to working with male and female leaders in family owned firms, helping them use communications to help grow their market share. At Muckle Media, I’m pleased to have the support of colleagues within our all-female leadership team.

Here are some female Scottish family owned business leaders that inspire me:

  • Audrey Baxter, producer of some of the UK’s finest soup sold around the world

  • Mary Contini, deli owner and chef at Valvona and Crolla

  • Ann Gloag, bus tycoon and philanthropist who started Stagecoach with her brother

  • Jo MacSween, former MD Macsween Haggis and now chair and coach with Vistage

  • Mairi Mickel, 4th generation family member and former board director of McTaggart and Mickel Homes and now family business advisor at Business Families

Who would you add to the list?

Nathalie Agnew is the founder of Muckle Media and Relative PR. She is a Women's Enterprise Scotland Ambassador.

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