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Family gender diversity

It is generally accepted that gender diversity fosters the innovation and creativity of an organisation and that it has an overall positive impact on the performance of a business, not least its profitability. Family gender diversity could lead to an additional competitive advantage for family businesses compared to non-family businesses.

Today more and more people realise that family businesses are different from non-family businesses. This difference is especially relevant with regard to the commitment of the family members to the business. The closer they stay to the business and the stronger their commitment, the stronger the performance of the business appears to be. So, why wait for the moment that there are no (sufficient) male family successors to continue the business before realising a systematic involvement and commitment of female family members? 

Women do make a difference as such, simply because they bring with them certain personal characteristics and competences that are labelled as typically female and are more or less repressed in a predominantly male environment. Now, what difference does family gender diversity make to the governance and success of the business and the family? This question is the main theme of a research currently conducted at Nyenrode Business University in The Netherlands.

In the meantime, let's look at what could be done in practise. The way family members interact while working together for their common cause shows a certain parallel to the way people work together within a business. 

Family members make strategic decisions in their role as members of different governing bodies (non-executive board, shareholders assembly and family council) and prepare and execute these decisions as members of various family teams or committees. This mechanism is functioning within the informal setting of the business family as well, involving family members who are not part of the governing bodies of the business and/or are not working with the business.

What could a business family do to realise the ideal situation where the interaction between female and male competences will strengthen both the business and the family? The idea is to start a Family Gender Diversity Dialogue for all sub-systems of family, business and owners. 

It is important to take into account that this dialogue is not a process on its own. This dialogue is instrumental to the broader strategic developing process of the business and aiming at constantly adapting to a changing environment and changing market circumstances. The dialogue is also instrumental to the unity and functionality of the family, which are important success factors for the longevity of the family business.

The main goal of the Family Gender Diversity Dialogue is to realise a durable inclusion of the female family members within (the governing bodies of) the business. In order to do that, the following three steps should be taken:

  1. Accepting the female family members as peers.
  2. Creating an attractive career or governing perspective for the female family members in an early stage.
  3. Creating an environment that secures a healthy work/life balance for both female and male family members in all management and governing levels.

One of the results of these steps could be a healthy interaction between the family and the business system, which is a strong resource that non-family businesses lack. The challenge would be to have both female and male family members contribute to that interaction with their own authentic personalities. There is still a lot to gain when using the full potential of the next generations' daughters and nieces on different operational and executive levels within the business and in different governing bodies of the family and the business.

In fact, family businesses could be at a distinct advantage in implementing gender diversity because of the family bonds between males and females. Allowing, introducing and accommodating female family members into key positions may result into a more diverse set of family and business competences and more authentic female and male leadership. In that respect, every business family is unique. Therefore, different procedures and techniques must be put into place in order to start a Family Gender Dialogue in every specific situation.

To read the full research article by Jurgen Geerlings and Roberto Flören click here

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