The success of any entrepreneur who has inherited family business lies in scaling it up. By keeping the best interest of the family and the business in mind, these entrepreneurs are able to build, grow and scale enterprises that can prosper for generations.
What is a family business without family? Traditionally, in India, it was usually the son who was seen learning the tricks of the trade as the heir apparent and then taking over the family business, while daughters were busy with marriage and motherhood. However, now many such businesses welcome daughters/daughters-in-law/wives into the fold and create an environment that is conducive for women as leaders and growth agents. The pivot of change is an amendment in the Hindu Succession Act that gives women an equal share in inheritance rights in the family business.
Women as legacy entrepreneurs
Let us understand why family businesses are a good career option for women entrepreneurs. Firstly, women from the family are trustworthy and prove to be talented human resources. As businesses grow and become more sophisticated, leadership becomes as much about managing finances as about people, which is an area in which women are adept. Secondly, they are naturally good managers and can thrive in an environment that focuses on people and profits simultaneously. Thirdly, they can draw on their strengths in a way they may not be able to in any other corporate role.
For women, it means a chance to do more for their family and still have their own identity. Family businesses also offer rich compensation in terms of satisfaction and taking forward a legacy. Moreover, since their families know what they are capable of, even if women need to take a break, it is easier for them to re-transition into the business. Lastly, time management and juggling multiple roles of being a businesswoman, wife and mother is easier in family-managed businesses.
Today, with the right training on skill sets and business acumen, women can lead organisations as efficiently and effectively as men – just going to show what a long way we have come! In our family-owned textile business, my father, sister and I lead the day-to-day functions, while my brother follows his passion at a start-up.
Women can play a strong role in maintaining an inclusive, cohesive and committed environment wherein the needs of the family are balanced with those of the business. This is important, as family businesses usually believe that the business is a part of their family identity.
Women have better soft skills and are able to build a harmonious working environment for co-workers and non-family members. There is a cycle at work here – a cohesive business can lead to better financial performance, which, in turn, can lead to a cohesive family environment. Additionally, women can uphold family traditions and togetherness in a business at the time of conflict and upheaval. Women in family businesses usually play a greater role and can have a better impact on the corporate social responsibility function as well.
These challenges are unique in some ways and typical in other ways. Women need to continuously balance their home, work, children and family responsibilities, which can be stressful and demanding. Aspirations and ambitions always need to be balanced/prioritised with family and children. Then, there is the challenge of proving their worth to the non-family employees. Often, experienced and older male employees from outside the family may resent the position of younger family women in the business. Possible role conflicts and gender stereotypes may also exist between sons and daughters in the business. Siblings and other members of the same family are bound to have differences in temperament, attitudes and outlook. An agree-to-disagree attitude and conducive atmosphere for constructive discussions must be established right in the beginning to avoid misunderstandings and resentments.
Women may not be able to remain invested in the family business if their contributions are not valued or there is a mismatch between their personality and the culture of the organisation. This is where the fathers or the older generation can bridge the generation gap to align the vision of the business and expectations from the women.
While challenges do exist, there are ways women can address them. Women must ensure a solid support system at home to be able to efficiently manage at the workplace. The support of spouse and in-laws is very important and much-needed. They must also ensure that there is a clear demarcation between their personal and professional life – to keep harmonious relationships in both areas.
They need to build their credibility from the ground up for the business staff to respect and value their inputs, and not see them as someone “from the boss’s family”. Another important aspect is to learn and benefit from the wisdom and experience of the older generation while implementing new ideas. They must continuously get themselves professionally qualified and technically trained to manage all aspects of the business too. This way, the work speaks for itself, not the gender.
One area, though relatively unexplored, is of peer-to-peer networks, which are platforms where entrepreneurs interact with like-minded entrepreneurs, all in the common endeavour to grow and scale their businesses. A peer-to-peer space provides a comfortable, safe and ongoing platform for the entrepreneur. For a woman entrepreneur who is struggling with challenges, it serves as a safe haven where she is able to benefit from experiential learnings and build solutions by herself that can help address the challenges she as an entrepreneur may face.
For an entrepreneur, this platform serves as an advisory board. It is a ready platform for entrepreneurs to discuss strategic and tactical issues at work. Members help each other deep-dive into their businesses and share perspectives and experiences. The best takeaway is the ability to connect their group learnings back to the business.
It is imperative that business families create an optimum environment at home, guide the women in the family to make the right choices and facilitate their entry into family business at the right time. Women must actively consider their family business as a ladder to growth and success, instead of scouting for opportunities elsewhere. With the right mindset, women can achieve their highest potential and lead the business to its highest potential as well.