In the first episode of our WIFB Conversations, Amy Katz and Ramia Marielle El Agamy explore why it is important to speak about the various visible and invisible roles of women in and around the family enterprise.
This episode of Conversations with Women in Family Business is co-produced with Amy Katz, founder of coaching-business Daughters in Charge.
Ramia: Hello everyone and welcome to this podcast we put together. We’re here with Amy Katz from Daughters In Charge. Amy, hi and welcome.
Amy: Thank you, pleasure to talk to you.
R: Amy and I decided a few weeks ago that we needed to talk about women in family business and maybe Amy, you can tell us a little bit more but why you are also passionate about this topic, just as passionate as we are.
A: I’ve always been passionate about women taking on leadership roles, so I’ve been in the field of leadership development for many, many years. But it was only really about five years ago that I started to appreciate that women in family businesses have a very different journey than women in both large and small corporate and not for profit organizations that are not rooted in the family business. But I’m passionate about women in business and family business because I do believe women have so much to contribute. Their talents are often underutilized and they are dissatisfied and the organizations lose the benefit of their contributions.
R: That’s great. And we found each other through the Internet, so we found Amy at womeninfamilybusiness.org. Similarly to your motivation, we are three women in family businesses – myself, a second generation and my cofounders, second and third respectively. We decided to start a worldwide community of women who find themselves in this particular situation of being women who are in a family business, part of a family business or somehow support a family business that their husbands or partners are involved with, for instance. And the reason why we started it was that we realized that any topic that is treated as exhaustively now as a family business is should have a particular focus on the role of female family members. We felt like otherwise, the conversation would never be entirely complete without looking at this topic in particular. I think that for us it was less a question of, and a lot of people ask me that Amy, I’m sure you can confirm to the listeners, it’s not about pushing any sort of a feminist agenda necessarily. But it’s really about expanding the kind of conversation we’re having within the family business field to include maybe women in a more meaningful way and also in a way that we guide ourselves. So for us, the biggest emphasis was always we felt women do a lot of things in the family business that go unnoticed. We feel a lot of the roles we see our mothers play, or our aunts play, our cousins play are invisible but extremely important. Things like the notorious title of Chief Emotional Officer that many women retain. So many of these things pushed us towards founding WIFB in 2015 with a group of really exceptional women in the academic world. So it’s really great to sit here with you Amy and to take this very important conversation into the future. When we talked about doing this podcast, we were both very adamant about creating an overview of where we are right now in this area of expertise. So Amy, it would be great if through Daughters In Charge, you could tell us what are the recurring themes that you’ve come across when it comes to working with women who are in family businesses, supporting them in their journeys. What have been the main topics that have kept cropping up for you?
A: There have been several. And I did not grow up in a family business so I come to this as an outsider and my perceptions, I’m sure we overlap, but I can also speak from a very different perspective. Some of the themes that I’ve heard women struggle with and as well as themes that women enjoy and take pride in are…one is finding the right role. So even the women may have grown up in the business, as they mature, they may as many of their peers do, decide I want to career. I want to contribute. I want to feel like a professional so finding the role within the business within the family and the nonfamily employees can be a challenge. Many times the non-family employees have always seen them as the high school student helping out or even a five-year-old answering the phone, so that identity shift to their own contribution and their own capacity to focus their talents in a way that helps the business is one step. Now the way I’ve also seen that theme is women who never expected to join the family business will go off and get a career, sometimes advanced degrees, have a very full and successful careers and then decide to return. They may have the role or the identity but then the struggle to gain credibility becomes in some ways huge. They’ve had it in a non-family setting, but credibility within the family setting can be a little rocky because often these women come all set to talk about ‘OK what’s the agenda for the meeting’ and the family business isn’t used to that kind of formality. So the theme of formal and informal is an important one. Another unexpectedly positive theme is that of daughters beginning to allow their fathers to express themselves in new ways. This is an insight I gained from a family business author named Ann Francis and it was very helpful and some of her examples. Because daughters, and let’s acknowledge that were generalizing here, they have the opportunity to form relationships with their Dads that they may not have had growing up. That provides the father with a certain openness and connection that he never experienced either. So that’s another theme is the new configuration of the father-daughter connection. So that’s another, obviously in most family businesses where the son has been expected to take over and here comes a very accomplished daughter, the sibling connections can be challenging to manage. And so, that’s another area which I think is an emerging theme.
R: It keeps coming back as an emerging theme when you talk to the ladies you work with. I think that I very much concur with a lot of what you’re saying and probably, from my perspective, being a family member, my dad didn’t really have a lot of choice with three daughters, poor guy. He does enjoy it, I do feel it’s good for him. I don’t think he suffered that much. He has three extremely devoted daughters who work from now so, what is it he always calls it, a blessing and a curse at the same time.
A: I have the feeling it’s more blessing there.
R: As most good things are they come with a price but I think he’s happy to pay it. I think from the inside of a family business, I’ve learned from the women that are part of our community that we never cease to learn about the variety of roles there are that make a family business successful. I think when we talk about family businesses, there’s way too much of a focus on the roles that have a job title, the roles that I actually have a definition or are defined in time or defined in terms of shares. I’ve come to find in my own family business, but also in general with family businesses that we know, often the roles that don’t have a title and don’t go acknowledged, play a much more vital role in getting the family through tough times and the business through tough times sometimes. And in keeping cohesion when things get a little rocky and I feel like it’ll be interesting to see how we can sort of shift our mindfulness about this topic towards including that conversation. It’s really strange because people always say, ‘Oh you’re going into psychology and everything. It’s not always just soft issues that were talking about here. We’re talking about a lot of women I know who have a very, very firm grip of say risk assessment for the business and helping their husbands at home assess business decisions in such an incredibly almost to scientific way. It never goes acknowledged because ultimately, he gets celebrated at work which is great and of course in a good marriage, that is exactly what you want. But it doesn’t really get discussed what is the intangible impact that women make around the whole family business ecosystem, if you will, that makes a family business successful. I think for me, the biggest discovery has been if you start realizing, and of course were generalizing hopelessly right now, but women play a bigger role in raising kids. It is slowly changing but it’s still the case that women have a really, really huge impact especially in the early years of child education and so essentially women define the relationship that children will have growing up in the family business. Because if as a woman, you’re the in-law and this has been the case for some of the women we work with in the community, when it feels the family business is what takes her husband away from her, it’s a big burden on her relationship. It’s a big strain as the family business takes up a lot of space, then her negative perception and frustration might actually transfer onto the kids who are however the future shareholders or the future heirs and the ones taking over. So all of the strands that connect to each other where women play a hugely crucial role, which ironically enough, goes very unrecognized mostly by women themselves. This has been my biggest conclusion actually.
A: Well let me respond to a couple of things that you said there. The first is that I think women are just learning to talk in the language of results. They know they’re making a contribution, but they’re not yet used to quantifying that or pointing out their connection to the bottom line. I think it’s not going to be recognized until women are able to articulate their impact on results and probably in quantitative terms. So they may know that they intervened with an employee or in a situation and made a difference, but it’s not necessarily going to be seen until they can trace their connection to the bottom line. So it’s both sides, family, nonfamily and the women themselves speaking that language that I think will be helpful. It’s an interesting point you raised about women who are making the choice to be at home more often and their capacity to be positive about the business. I think couples often discuss generally the issues of how much time someone is working and who’s taking care of this. But I think what some women have done and it’s a privilege I think in being a daughter in a family business is sometimes bring their children to work, give them some smaller roles, and that’s not something every employee can do. But it is part of that privilege-end opportunity to acquaint a child with the business. I think for women who grew up with a parent in a business, whether or not it’s a family business, may not even appreciate what they’re learning about the world every day. So I think the more women can say ‘Yeah it’s demanding but it can be fun’ or enjoy what it’s like and get comfortable with the idea of clients or customers, they do play huge role.
R: We will definitely have to do a separate episode one time Amy, talking about the family business workplace and what it means in terms of opportunities for women. That’s actually one of the very few topics where there’s actual research that has been done so that’s really exciting to see. Let’s also quickly focus on that as well. You know research and data on this topic is, of course, extremely scarce. So I like to take any opportunity, any conversation I have to even make this podcast a call to action. There should be more conversations between women, between men generally as a group, as a research group about this topic. We need way more data. We need to know where the pressure points lie, what difficulties what opportunities are out and become more vocal about it. Have you encountered any significant movement in that direction at the moment?
A: I think the research that has been done, I’ve actually found a few dissertations on the topic but the big research has been done by major consulting firms and with very well recognized and affluent families. One of the things I’ve found is that a family business can be a corner hardware store or it can be a family enterprise. So I think part of our research going forward needs to be absolutely clear about what we’re defining, about company, organizational size and industry. Even in research on nonfamily organizations, I think we need to understand what’s the entity. Because there are different dynamics, they’re just are.
R: SMEs are, if you want to take it in the bigger picture which we should be these days, the global economy is generally under pressure like this conversation should be seen in a global setting as well. You know times are changing very quickly, SMEs are under a huge amount of pressure and the thing is that innovation is something that needs to become daily bread and we want to talk about the role of women as change makers in their environment. And so I think if we can sort of steer the conversation in that directional bit more, not so much maybe pouncing too much on the topics of gender differences etc. because I feel that topic has been, it’s not never exhausted as long as humankind is here, it’ll be a subject that we will talk about. But it would be great to have this conversation as if it were, I guess a conversation about men and family business. So going back to your point, to where we talk about what kind of impact would we actually make by having this talk and having this conversation and taking it forward. What kind of an impact can it have to empower women to think about themselves in these visible and invisible rolls and family businesses which are as we know the backbone of economies across the world. So I think going forward Amy, I’m looking forward to having many more of these chats with you. This is the first of many more of these episodes so stay tuned, we will be uploading more content as the weeks pass and we wish you all a lovely rest of the day.
A: Thanks. Bye.
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.