Women run family business

President Obama proclaimed in his recent State of the Union Address that “Women make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.” Interestingly, this dynamic may be less prevalent in family run businesses.

Family businesses come in variety of different shapes and sizes. But one type of family business that is under discussed is “Women-run” family businesses.

Historically business has been a “Man’s World”. But in the 1940’s men got shipped off to war and women needed to backfill their traditional work roles here at home. Through this women came to realize that not only can they add value in the workplace, but they enjoy it too. Women gained further empowerment in the 1960’s through legislation outlawing wage and employment discrimination based on gender. (Not to say that both did not continue in practice.)

Since that time women have been working hard to break through the glass ceiling. Some progress has been made- women now account for 60% of U.S. bachelor degree holders, and run many renowned Fortune 500 companies like IBM, HP, Yahoo!, and yes, even General Motors. Unfortunately, women still only make up less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs. But at family businesses they make up over 25%.

Women-run family businesses tend to be a business founded by a woman with the husband participating in a support role or along-side a sibling, or by divorced women looking to get back work.

What I have found is that women who run family businesses have an extra burden in that they are still mom at home, and are also mom with their children in the business. To be sure, fathers play a critical role in the life of their children, and love their children just as much as the mother.  However, mothers are looked upon as, act as, and dare I say, are the primary caregiver and emotional support for their children.

Much of this is environmental and learned, but according to Dr. Louann Brizendine, author of the book The Female Brain, brain chemistry and genetic wiring in women actually gear them to be good caregivers and emotional support for children. For example, the larger prefrontal cortex makes women more patient and pacific, larger and more active insulae better equip them to better read non-verbal cues, and their pituitary gland in conjunction with the hypothalamus aids nurturing behavior.

What makes it doubly hard for mothers to run the family business is that their children inherently look upon them as their caregivers and emotional support system. Thus, while Mom may be doing a fine job separating business and family, it can be more difficult for the children: they may see their Mother running the business, as opposed to their boss. As such, they may not respond well in the workplace from someone who prepared them dinners, put band aids on their skinned knees, or tucked them in at night. And the more mom has trouble separating the mother/boss roles, the worse their children’s behavior can become.

“It can be more difficult for mothers running a family business, but it doesn’t have to be” says Delaine Mead, Owner of the Charlotte-based family business, Valuebiz. “Most everything women learned know about being a good mother at home is directly transferable to the workplace. You have to juggle multiple priorities and treat everyone fairly, but you still need to set boundaries and have consequences for the family or business to function well.”

Being a Mother is hard. Being a working mom is harder. Being a working mother, leading a company, and managing family at work is incredibly difficult. To make it easier, leave no doubt that you are the boss at work, even if you are mom at home.

As your family business partner, we’re here for you!