Gender diversity at the top improves decision-making, performance

Studies show that women bring important qualities to executive positions in business, from enhanced communications skills to more diverse perspectives – helping organizations to avoid “group think” and contributing to greater performance and profitability.

In family enterprises, women typically hold more senior roles and have greater equality of opportunity, says Krista Han, a partner at Grant Thornton based in Fredericton, NB.

“It’s leading to improved results,” says Ms. Han, who particularly advises business families on issues such as succession and continuity planning, governance systems, communication and conflict resolution. She says the number of women in leadership positions in family businesses is outstripping competitors by about four to one. “Family businesses can be a more flexible place for women in senior roles,” she says.

 Women are increasingly fully engaged in family businesses, and not on the sidelines. istockphoto.com

Women are increasingly fully engaged in family businesses, and not on the sidelines. istockphoto.com

A recent global report by Grant Thornton says that women in typical businesses still tend to be in supporting positions rather than leading executive teams, with the number of women in senior roles rising by just three per cent in the past five years. One-third of businesses have no female input at all into executive decisions, the report says, noting that gender diversity at the top can help companies improve decision-making, deal with complexity and meet the challenges of a rapidly changing business environment.

Today’s family businesses “consistently outperform” other companies, Ms. Han says, and some of that success can be attributed to the increase of women in senior roles. In the past, women generally played peripheral supporting roles in the family business, she notes, while this generation of women is fully engaged in the business, not on the sidelines. “It’s been an evolution over time.”


Today’s family businesses “consistently outperform” other companies, and some of that success can be attributed to the increase of women in senior roles.
— Krista Han is a partner at Grant Thornton

While women leading family businesses still play a significant role as caregivers for children or seniors, these responsibilities may be better shared with male members of the family who also work in the company.

“One woman who was the vice-president of a family business was on maternity leave and had an important meeting at the office, so she brought the baby into the CEO-suite to stay with grandpa,” she says. “That type of support structure doesn’t exist everywhere.”

Ms. Han says this kind of flexibility, business agility and support for women at the upper echelons of family enterprises “creates a great environment for women to succeed” and also helps such companies attract top talent. “Championing women will lead to a clearer path for them to advance into senior leadership roles,” she adds.

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