When Daughters Take Over The Family Business, It’s Still All About Dad

It’s hard enough for a woman to get into the C-suite at a company they work at independently. But what about when Dad is the hiring manager? That’s just one of the challenges faced by daughters in line to take over family businesses. Once rare, the phenomenon is growing worldwide as traditional expectations erode and more women graduate from college. But there are still tons of roadblocks, from conservative fathers who wait for their daughters to marry, to women’s hesitation to enter the fray.

Daphne Halkias is a researcher at Cornell University and at the Center for Young & Family Enterprise at the University of Bergamo in Italy. Her new book, Father-Daughter Succession in Family Business, looks closely at exactly how father-daughter succession works, and offers ideas for encouraging it worldwide.

In an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Karen E. Klein, Halkias says that in her many conversations with women on the subject, she found them “concerned about succeeding their fathers, because many were only children, or one of two sisters, and they had a lot of emotional conflicts with their fathers.” Women are concerned with maintaining peace in the family, which adds a layer of complication beyond just keeping the business afloat. Adding even more drama: “In many cultures, unlike in Europe and the U.S., the extended family is very involved in a business,” Halkias said. “So conflicts might not just be between the father and daughter; male cousins and uncles, and brothers-in-law could get into the conflict also.”

Traditionally-minded fathers often want to wait for their daughters to marry, so she can do PR and her husband can take over the “real” business. Halkias says that in conservative Asian cultures, especially, there is a bias against single women as businesswomen. And many dads simply don’t want to give up control, even when it makes sense for the business.

Unsurprisingly, given these challenges, many women just don’t want to take over the family business. Halkias said that in her surveys, 100% of sons were gung-ho to succeed their fathers in business. “Most of the girls, however, did not want to continue in the family business,” she says. Either they wanted to start their own businesses, or they just encountered too many conflicts with their conservative fathers.

All this could leave American women feeling pretty smug about our relatively progressive culture and acceptance of women in the workplace. But Halkias points out that in many parts of the world, a more family-oriented approach to work-life balance can actually work in women’s favor:

In certain countries, women don’t have a choice to remain single or not to have children. Their families arrange marriages for them within large circles of extended family and friends. But once they have children, the extended family gets involved in raising the children.

So two-career families have grandmothers and cousins and siblings, many of whom live in the same big building or the same neighborhood, and they all help out. It’s a very natural way of life, and in many cases, working women are not as isolated as they often are in the West.

As in so many other issues relating to women and work, it’s two steps forward, one step back. An over-involved family can drive you crazy, but it can also facilitate a career — as long as you don’t mind your old boss (AKA Dad) being your child’s babysitter.

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