Introducing new technology into the family business is not an easy process but one that all businesses have to initiate sooner or later. With their strong empathy and communication skills, women have the ability to facilitate the process and lead the fourth Industrial Revolution. The key to an inclusive and smooth transition lies in developing expertise while asking the right questions on the social impact and unintentional consequences of new technologies.
In this episode of our WiFB Conversations, Amy Katz and Ramia Marielle El Agamy discuss how women can implement new technologies into the family business more smoothly and efficiently.
This episode of Conversations with Women in Family Business is co-produced with Amy Katz, founder of coaching-business Daughters in Charge.
Photo by Tomasz Frankowski on Unsplash
R: This week, Amy and I have decided to talk about why and how women should take the lead in introducing new technology into the family business.
As a global economy, we’re currently in the midst of the fourth Industrial Revolution. Besides family businesses, everyone is concerned about how the changes we are facing are further accelerated by revolutionary new technologies.
This is probably the first Industrial Revolution that humanity has experienced where women have taken such a prominent role. Women are actively influencing decisions when it comes to business and leadership styles. Amy, what are the tell-tale signs that suggest this Industrial Revolution has a female influence, as opposed to other times?
A: One of the reasons is that now technologies are social. There’s a lot of communication that goes on. Women are social creatures, and they’re now active users in a way that they may not have been before. In the past, a lot of the technological innovations were happening in different industries where women weren’t working.
The move towards more social technologies is critical in a global marketplace. Women have become more familiar with these social technologies. I have heard this from the daughters who particularly want to innovate the way their family business communicates with the outside world.
R: There is also a new element of mindfulness in technology that we can trace back to the fact that there are more women involved in the design of these technologies. That’s not to say that men don’t have empathy and don’t care about these things, but it is probably more of a female concern to promote communication.
We tend to see things such as virtual reality or augmented reality as a new appearance. But what we’re seeing today is the outcome of decades of pioneering women in science and engineering. Advances made30 or 40 years ago laid the groundwork for the technologies we have today.
At the accelerated pace that this is happening, keeping up to date can feel overwhelming for businesses. Family business owners, who feel a responsibility to carry operations to the next generation, may feel especially overwhelmed. They might find themselves in a situation where their industry is disrupted by change and will no longer exist the way they have always known it.
In this era of fast-paced change, we’re increasingly asking ourselves questions. Instead of just being the recipients of change, we’re asking ourselves how women can take an active role in promoting the right technologies in the family business. Traditionally, women take the role of managers of change. Instead of just managing the change, how can women become advocates and instigators of change? How can we be the source of the idea?
A: I think being a smart businesswoman who can look strategically at the industry or business that her family is in is going to open the door to what changes in technology will advance the company’s mission. We’re seeing a lot of women entrepreneurs now who are finding ways to repurpose the technology they have by discovering unmet needs.
I don’t want to overemphasise the social side, but I do think strategy and the capacity to be social go together. If a woman is comfortable with networking, that is a strategic asset. I do think that’s a unique contribution.
Within the business itself, the selection of new technology may or may not be of interest to competitors. But women can convene the conversation which allows experts, male and female, to start discussing what technology will fit our culture and advance our business success. Women can convene without necessarily being experts. I don’t want to minimise the contribution that women can make in their understanding of technology; I’m simply saying that convening the conversation and facilitating the dialogue about the selection of a particular technology is another role that women can play.
A: When it comes to technology, a stereotypical male response might be, ‘What’s the cost? What’s the benefit? What’s the time frame? What are the milestones?’ This is a very business-like approach. A woman’s voice might say, ‘Who’s likely to be affected? What are their reactions likely to be? How will we manage and introduce that to set the stage in such a way that people can fundamentally change the way they work?’
The introduction of any significant technology can be a personal disruption. There are roles that women can play on the strategic side and the relationship side. Women can also convene conversations about the possibility of what technology would fit best and then help all employees adapt and adjust to the changes.
R: There are complementary factors that men and women bring to the table when it comes to introducing new technologies. When you have both men and women in the workplace, it results in a more balanced outcome for everyone because more perspectives come to the table.
For family businesses, there are benefits to having multiple generations in the business leadership as well. This can create a very interesting discussion between the generation that might be native to new technology and the generation who has known the time before technology. The native generation can drive things forward when it comes to the actual nitty-gritty of the implementation. Whereas the older generation understands the mindset change that has to happen.
When it comes to the ‘women and technology’ discussion, I feel like technology is one of those areas where women’s voices can be the experts. A woman joining her family business would not naturally try to go for the role of being the expert in a certain technology or a hard skill. There is a bit of a stigma that the majority of women joining the family business will go into HR, marketing or something of that kind. In the current Industrial Revolution, there’s a possibility for a revolution of roles as well. If you want to join your family business differently, introducing new technology can be the way. However, you must be willing to develop the expertise and do your homework.
There’s an opportunity here to not only bring change to your family business but to potentially change how your family business sees women in their roles within the business. There are a lot of combined distractions that can happen regarding the culture and how the business functions. For me, one of the main things is that it’s important that you do the research, even if you buy the technology from the outside. Even if you get the expert support that helps you implement new technology in the family business, you still must have that ambition to become expertly knowledgeable in that new technology. If you want to integrate AI into your processes, make sure you know what you’re talking about when you teach others.
Amy, have you seen women implement massive technology-related changes in their family business and how have they gone about it?
A: There are a couple of routes into that, and I think massive change is not one person’s effort alone. Women do need to view themselves as professionals. Whether you’ve grown up in the family business or whether you have credentials in some area, you’ve got to master the knowledge base. If that means learning about new technology, great. If it’s bringing in new technology because it’s something that you learned about in advanced training, that’s also great. Both are important for the sake of the business because you want that technology to work. It’s also important for your credibility.
I would also say it does behove women and men to become thoroughly knowledgeable. However, if they are not, they should know how to select the vendors or outside people who can be helpful. They must learn how to trust the judgment from outside help because ultimately, no business can do it all by itself. We are dependent on the marketplace to help us, and it is important to be careful in your selection on which model you’re going to implement.
R: Beyond finding the right suppliers and vendors, we also have to find the right allies within the family. If you were to bring in computers after everyone has been doing everything by hand for so many years, being the only family member who’s convinced that change is necessary can be a great obstacle to implementing anything successfully.
Within the family, it’s very important to keep in mind that no change is for one person to bear alone. You deal with a lot of ego-crushing situations where an idea that was yours gets absorbed into the collective, or someone entirely different gets the credit. You have to be okay with that in a family business. You have to be okay with the idea that if you bring that technology, it is to improve the business. If you want to implement new changes, you have to make sure you have as many people on board with you as possible from the get-go.
A: I have a slightly different view. Let’s take the situation where a non-family employee has been thinking about this new technology and is hoping that the business adopts it. Then in walks the daughter who says, ‘How about this one?’ and gets all the credit. Sometimes, apart from vendors and suppliers, the knowledge base and the wisdom are already in the company, but it’s harder for the family to realise when the non-family employees are the ones to say, ‘We need to change.’
R: That’s true. We now hear families discussing the possibility of non-family members taking on the role of Chief Disruption Officer. The purpose of this role is to try to disrupt as many things as possible because they realise there might be family dynamics that are preventing it from happening. Or perhaps none of the family members has the credibility to be convincing agents of change.
What if, as family members, we want to introduce change and face huge resistance from the non-family employees? That also happens very often. As a family, you might be in total agreement of where the business needs to go, but carrying that over into your culture or towards your staff can be a huge challenge.
I think we can agree that implementing new technology is a collective effort that needs to carry conviction. Everyone should make an effort. It may even help to have a clear conversation about what everyone’s role is in bringing the technology to the fore. I think one of the greatest fears of new technology is the loss of importance of certain people’s jobs – or even the loss of jobs completely.
As women, an interesting role for us to tap into is what we would call the 360-degree sense of troubleshooting all the time. We must understand to what degree it will impact employees on the soft level regarding their authority and their social status. From a psychological point of view, no matter how long you have been doing a specific type of work, I can’t imagine for any factory worker that it would be an easy transition to seeing a robot arm doing their job better than they’ve been able to do it for years. That is a huge psychological conversation that we forget to have when it comes to implementing new technologies.
A: One of the ways women can handle the type of issue is by asking a crucial question: ‘What are the unintended consequences if we go this direction?’ This question opens the door to technical issues, customer issues and people issues. It’s not a ‘How is everybody going to feel?’ question because that may not fly.
R: Assessing unintended consequences is a very diplomatic way of troubleshooting. I think the main conclusion for us today is that the fourth Industrial Revolution is not just a male conversation anymore. It’s one where women can take the lead and give direction. They can do so by using their attributes and certain social capabilities and implementing new technology in a different way than they have done in the past.
We can now be experts, as opposed to just the adopters of technologies. And finally, it is also important to ask the right questions when implementing new technologies. You should ask questions that concern not just the business but also the social impact and unintentional consequences for everyone who is involved. Thank you very much, Amy, for this episode. We will be back next week with a new topic.
About Amy Katz and Daughters in Charge:
Amy Katz is an executive coach and social psychologist whose business, Daughters in Charge, focuses exclusively on supporting women in family businesses. She is the author of Daughters in Charge: Learning to Lead in Your Family’s Business.