Women in family businesses are often the backbone of the organization. Whether she’s the founder, a founding partner, a supportive spouse or daughter, or an employee of the family enterprise, a woman often is willing to do work that others feel is beneath them because she recognizes the greater good. Research has shown that when a man starts a business, he usually can count on his wife’s unpaid labor during those lean start-up years. Women entrepreneurs, on the other hand, realize that they must go it alone if their businesses are to succeed. They too use the services of family and friends in those early years, but often their husbands don’t offer unpaid help with such menial chores as housework, child care or envelope stuffing.
As a stakeholder or a stockholder, a family business woman should be accorded compensation, benefits and perks befitting her considerable contributions to the health of the family and the enterprise. There are two ways to accomplish this. First, the business owners should re-evaluate their standards and update stock, compensation and benefits plans for female employees. Second, they should implement programs to encourage the talent development of the girls in the family.
Here are some suggestions:
- Develop flexible compensation plans that reward women for their hard work and talent even if they work part-time or take a leave of absence.
- Institute stock purchase plans for part-timers.
- Evaluate voting rights. Is it absolutely necessary to be a partner or a full-time worker to have a vote?
- Don’t ever pay the women according to what they would earn at another company. Pay them for their value to your family business. Obviously, a wife or mother is worth much more as your advocate than she would be paid as a bookkeeper in a non-family company.
- Pay for child care, and encourage the family business women and men to take advantage of the opportunity. Better yet, set up on-site child-care centers so that family business women will not conflicted about leaving their children to go to work.
- Set up a system to mentor the girls in the family. Often young women don’t even consider joining the family business, because they see the handwriting on the wall (i.e., the guys have sewn up all the good jobs). Arrange apprenticeships for the girls so they can learn first-hand about opportunities at your family firm.
- Offer scholarships to girls who are willing to study business in college or major in an area applicable to your family business.
- Don’t restrict scholarships to college. Offer start-up capital to young women who want to set up their own businesses if they write a good business plan.
Many family business owners mean well but just haven’t taken the time to delve into this problem. But if compensation and other recognition aren’t handled fairly for family business women, the enterprise will suffer from relationship disharmony as well as a “brain drain.” For the health and future success of the family business, these problems need correcting immediately.