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How family businesses nurture female leaders

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Gallagher National Head of Transport Roz Shaw spent 30 years heading up her own family-run transport operation. Here she talks about how a number of studies have shown that women in positions of authority benefit businesses, but Australia has been slow to get the message. 

roz shaw linkedin profileIn spite of representing 42% of the workforce and achieving higher rates of graduation from tertiary institutions than men, the number of women drops by 10% at each step of the management ladder, leaving just 10% in chief executive roles.

This is despite findings that on average female leaders make better decisions, improve company performance and reduce the risk of bankruptcy.

The exception to this is family businesses. A 2015 collaborative study by Ernst & Young and Kennesaw State University found that global family owned or controlled businesses average about five women senior executives and a further four being groomed for top leadership positions. Seventy per cent are considering appointing a woman as their next CEO.

In Australia since the mid-2000s women have been taking control of family businesses in greater numbers and the organisations are looking to daughters, as well as sons, to step up to leadership roles. So what makes family businesses different from the mainstream?

Along with taking a long-term view of business goals and the plans that support them, family enterprises are more likely to have women in management roles, providing positive role models for their fellow female employees.

Sometimes the fact that family businesses have a less formal structure can be a leveller. Rather than specific rigid titles, the best person for the job tends to be recognised due to their talents rather than age, gender or formal education. 

In my family business, I was the youngest and female, with an older brother. My parents didn’t differentiate the girls from the boys – we did all tasks. This might have seemed tough at the time but it allowed siblings to recognise their appropriate skill sets. It’s a practice that allows the right leader to emerge instead of forcing the son or the eldest to lead.

Also family business culture tends to take personal life considerations into account. Significantly, family-run enterprises are more likely to enable female staff with family obligations to work flexible hours. Flexible hours are one of the key requirements for fostering female leadership in high-performing organisationsaccording to McKinsey.

10 tenets for nurturing female leaders in your business

  1. Encourage a culture of embracing positive change
  2. Demonstrate your company’s commitment to diversity, including through your business partners
  3. Enable your staff to work flexible hours
  4. Support your staff through life transitions
  5. Set a diversity agenda and hold yourself and others accountable
  6. Build the infrastructure to make these changes possible
  7. Challenge traditional recruitment values such as linear career path journeys
  8. Invest in your frontline leaders to drive cultural change
  9. Sponsor your women staff members with potential
  10. Develop promising women by ensuring they gain experience in key roles.

This is an area where family businesses can be influential drivers of social change so why not be part of future-proofing your company for success? As I learned from my own experience, you won’t know what someone can achieve unless they have the opportunity.

When it comes to looking after your enterprise, including key people, don’t hesitate to call on our expertise. Gallagher can advise on insurance tailored to your transport business’s needs. Just call 1800 240 432 to chat about your particular needs.

Learn more about our transport practice and how we can help your business


This article appears courtesy of Family Business Australia, where it was originally published.


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