Fostering the potential of women in entrepreneurial families

Pawel Ziemianski,
Assistant Professor,
Gdansk University of Technology,

There is hardly any doubt that family businesses are crucial for the development of modern economies. The so-called 4 Cs (continuity, community, connection, and command) were found to characterize successful family businesses and create an environment where the next generations of entrepreneurs could develop and foster entrepreneurial skills and attitudes. In Poland and other Central and Eastern European countries, which were a part of the Eastern Bloc, an interesting situation has recently been taking place. The first generation of business owners who established their firms in the last decade of the 20th century after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the economic transformation is retiring or starting to plan this process. It is related to numerous challenges faced by firms, business owners, and their families. Several selected ones are mentioned in this short article. The emphasis is placed on women within the family business environment.

One of the important aspects is related to succession. The relatively short history of most of the existing Polish family companies makes it impossible to indicate their future fate. Nevertheless, international observations indicate that the decrease in the number of companies still owned and run by family members is very steep. Different estimations indicate that the probability of passing a family business on to members of the next generation is considerably smaller than 50%. The proportion of businesses still run by families in the third and next generations is remarkably small. In those businesses where family members remain in charge despite all the obstacles, it is quite uncommon for women to be CEOs. In a study where the succession in Polish family companies was investigated, it was found that only in one-fourth of all cases, it was a woman who became the successor. It was found in the Western context that it often takes a critical incident (including, for example, the company’s founder serious illness) for women to start considering themselves as potential successors.

When asked about the negative aspects of their careers, entrepreneurs often indicate family life elements. They observe how being pressed for time and busy affects their family relationships. At the time when their children enter the teenage age or become adults, entrepreneurs often realize that they missed part of their childhood. Mothers who are entrepreneurs tend to perceive this aspect as a more severe and, more often, it is for them a source of guilt. Father- entrepreneurs seem to feel more often a lack of empathy and understanding of their family members. By them, long hours spent in the company’s office or premises are often seen as inevitable for those business owners who seriously approach their duties.

Therefore, it is vital to consider the experiences that representatives of both genders have in family businesses. The observations of parents who run businesses and the difficulties they experience may be one reason why people with family business backgrounds sometimes find it hard to follow their entrepreneurial family members’ footsteps and either become successors or establish their firms. Studies that investigate this issue have shown that women more often decide to become salary workers in this group. It seems thus that, to an extent, the potential of women who come from entrepreneurial families is underutilized.

Numerous stakeholders (family business members representatives, officials, governmental agencies, and entrepreneurship educators) might become involved in ensuring that women’s potential is used to a greater extent. Among them, the role of education can be emphasized. Recently, the academic community representatives have made more calls to include the darker aspects of entrepreneurship in entrepreneurial education to prepare people to deal with them. One can have the impression that presenting idealized role models – successful and globally well-known entrepreneurs, mainly coming from the US, is often a common approach. Undoubtedly, they can be sources of inspiration, but it is much more difficult to relate to them, particularly for those who come from a culturally different context.

Investigating the negative aspects of being an entrepreneur or a member of an entrepreneurial family and openly presenting them can help find appropriate countermeasures. Entrepreneurial education may be an excellent tool to achieve it. Its goal should be not only to prepare people to start and run their ventures but also, for example, to understand the processes that are taking place in entrepreneurial families from which they originate. It can cover the topic of the significance of the important roles that have been enjoying less attention from scholars, including the role of an entrepreneur’s life partner. Researchers have found that in the case of both male and female entrepreneurs, the significance of the partner’s support cannot be underrated.

In the difficult time of the pandemic and its predicted aftermath, family businesses and entrepreneurial families’ role is likely to become even more significant. Utilizing their potential to the greatest possible extent can benefit numerous stakeholders and whole societies and certainly deserves their attention.

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