When it comes to family businesses and succession planning there’s an elephant in the room that no-one wants to talk about. So says Amalia Brightley-Gillott, Managing Director of Family Business Place, a consultancy which supports leaders of family firms.
For many women, she says, the window for taking over the reins of the family firm often coincides with the time when they want to start a family. Instead of accommodating maternity leave within the succession plan, a brother or a male cousin is often primed for the role instead.
“For businesses to continue and succeed, everyone should have an equal opportunity based on merit, not gender,” says Amalia. “I would urge all family business leaders who are thinking about succession planning to focus on the best person for the job.
We need a generation of men who don’t feel undermined by the fact they do the bulk of the child-rearing and housework, she says. Her own father stayed at home while mum Anita pursued her entrepreneurial instincts, establishing Family Business Place in 2008 before handing it on to her daughter.
“There’s been a shift in the way we work and run businesses,” says Amalia. “Flexible hours, working on the go, working from home have all led to women being able to achieve their goals in business whilst also managing a family.”
Family-owned businesses ought to be the perfect environment for young, talented, entrepreneurial females to flourish, believes Amalia. “Because of the long-term view, a family business is less about 'climbing the ladder' and personal egos,” she says. “It's more about doing what's right for the future sustainability of the company, no matter who is at the helm.”
“The great thing about being a family-owned business is that you can find your strengths and tap into them to help shape the business. For me, it was about building a community of leaders and using new technology to keep them connected. In our family business, the fact that I'm female didn't even enter the equation. I'm passionate about what we do, driven to create a legacy for my family and committed to putting in the hours of hard work to make it happen. That's what makes me the best leader, not whether I'm a man or a woman.”