The importance of diversity in the family business

07 March 2018

We’re marking International Women’s Day 2018 with a special focus on Family Business.

The gender gap in all forms of businesses continues to make the headlines, whether that’s a gap in pay, a gap in participation, or a gap in the numbers of women in the workplace or on boards.

And all this is despite the fact that study after study has proved that companies with female leadership actually outperform those run by men.

So where do family firms fit in? What’s the representation of women in these businesses, and how do the female next gen feel about the prospect of leadership?

We explore the following themes:

What are the biggest issues facing women in a family business?

Russ Haworth, Chartered Financial Planner with Proposito Financial Planning, suggests:

“ Whilst things are improving I do still see occasions where women in family business are overlooked for leadership roles in favour of their male counterparts, irrespective of whether they are the best person for the role. Likewise, being taken seriously in business can still be a challenge for women, but I do think this is improving. There are traditional industries that are male dominated where it is still felt that certain roles need to be held by men but there are also pioneers in these industries that are showing that this is not the case.”

Are male and female siblings given the same opportunities in family businesses?

Russell Haworth comments:

“ We still hear from businesses where it is felt that male siblings are given priority when it comes to areas such as succession, some of this is industry specific and clearly there is still work to be done here to remove the stereotypes, but we are also hearing more and more success stories from female siblings bucking the trend. Recognising and celebrating these examples is a great way of reaffirming that it can be done.”  


What are you seeing family businesses doing to ensure more diversity on the board?

Paul Andrews, Managing Director, Family Business United, works with many family businesses across the country. He shared his thoughts:

“ In many cases the boards of family firms are probably more diverse than their non-family counterparts but clearly there is scope for more to be done.  Families in business offer great opportunities for family members, be they male or female, but of fundamental importance to their strategic success is having the right people with the right skills and attributes to enable the business to achieve its goals.

There are some fantastic female role models at the helm of family firms such as Weston's Cider, Beaverbrooks, Ridgeview and O'Donovan Waste Disposal to name a few, some family and some not, and IWD is a great opportunity to highlight and celebrate these role models who can only inspire more women to take on leadership and board positions and flourish in their own right.

Family firms take the long term view and in many cases their leaders are stewards for future generations and it is great to see so many great examples of women doing great things.  Diversity clearly needs to be encouraged but it is great to see family firms embracing, supporting and encouraging women to take on key strategic positions too.”

Russ Haworth, comments:

“ Family businesses are leading the way when it comes to having women on their boards and there is research to suggest that this leads to greater cohesion, less conflict and better business results. For any businesses that perhaps are sceptical about the positive influence female board members can have I would suggest that they speak to those businesses who have taken this step. Family businesses have the opportunity to lead the way when it comes to diversity at board level, when a business is family owned there are fewer barriers ensuring that diversity at board level is achieved and this is an opportunity to embrace.”

Elizabeth Bagger, Executive Director, IFB, adds:

‘Being firmly rooted in their communities, having access to a variety of family talent and due to their private ownership, the ability to be more flexible in terms of how they access that talent, family businesses are well placed to ensure diversity is firmly on the agenda when it comes to family roles as well as their workforce. We are seeing increasing numbers of incredible female leaders in family business, and in the next generation.’ 


Sian Steele, PwC's Family Buisness leader concludes:

"Family Businesses have the opportunity to really set the pace on gender diversity ; it fits with the consistently high values and this inclusive leadership will sustain creation of legacy."

Join the conversation on Twitter via #IWD2018 and #PwCFamilyBiz or share who inspires you in the comments below. 

Sian Steele

Sian Steele | Family Business Leader
Profile | Email | +44 (0)122 355 2226



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