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Women stand their ground as the heads of family businesses

Family businesses have done particularly well in recent decades. The reasons for this are manifold, but what is particularly striking is that family businesses are usually still strongly imbued with the values that lay at their roots, even in later generations. This manifests itself in several ways, but perhaps most notably in terms of equality. Family businesses have a huge amount of female leadership worldwide, and those entrepreneurial women are doing well, a recent study by Bisnode Belgium has shown.
Molly Vincent
by Vincent Molly, PhD | March 31, 2017
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"30% of Belgian family businesses are run by a woman"

C-level women on the rise

According to Vincent Molly, director of the Family Business Knowledge Network at Antwerp Management School, today 30% of Belgian family businesses are under the leadership of a woman. In addition, more than 86,000 women are also appointed as directors of companies. Needless to say, female C-level executives are on the rise.

However, in the S&P Euro 350, many sectors are still limping along behind (with a growth rate of 1 new female CEO per year, which would delay effective gender parity in corporate leadership until 2170 or later). Family businesses, fortunately, are not subject to that slow-motion evolution. A survey by service provider EY found that advancement opportunities for women in family businesses are much more telling: at least 55% already have at least one woman on the board. At least 70% are also considering a woman as their next CEO. And those female role models also have a widely positive effect: in many cases (41% of female family members over the past 3 years), they inspire other women to get into the business as well.

At least 70% of family businesses are considering a woman as their next CEO"

It is also notable that many of the women in the top 100 work in a "male sector": the women who really stand out do particularly well in the manufacturing industry - and thus not in the "softer" sectors. There is certainly plenty of room and perspective in the manufacturing sector for future growth opportunities. Company size is not really a factor here either: it is notable that you really don't have to be a multinational to be successful. 'Responding to the local situation also pays off,' says B2B data expert Pieter Moens of Bisnode Belgium.

Nieuwe bedrijfscultuur, gelijker bedrijfsbestuur

Young people now are more aware of everything faster than ever before. The new generation is informed and therefore more mindful of the responsibility they put on themselves: young people are aware of their career options at a young age, which makes them think more carefully about whether or not to fill a place in the family business.

It is also notable that the focus on work-life balance among younger professionals is a major advantage for female business leaders. Furthermore, the changing corporate culture means that deals are no longer being done within the "boys' club" that used to be there. Moreover, we also see the older generation of business leaders becoming less short-sighted: the oldest son is no longer automatically looked to for succession.

The trap here, however, is that daughters often prove to be less assertive with respect to the previous generation: they often feel a greater need to uphold the tradition of the company, which can sometimes thwart change.

"In practice, we see that companies with many women in strategic positions tend to achieve better results."

The formula

What often remains unclear is what the effects of female governance are. Do companies do better because they have a female director or do more female professionals get the opportunity in a company that is doing well? In practice, we see that companies with many women in strategic positions typically achieve better results, both financially and in terms of policy, CSR, talent development, equity, customer relations and so on. The sum of it all leads to better results when it comes to risk management, brand reputation, talent recruitment and retention, which in turn results in a stable and profitable company.

The formula for success is simple. First, it is noticed that strong female role models in companies inspire and motivate other women in turn. In addition, women business leaders excel in their long-term thinking, putting continuous growth first. Finally, family character is essential: well-being and prosperity of the family - and by extension, employees - is fostered through a strong focus on cohesion, commitment and effort. There is a focus on people in a family business, and that is the ground that provides fair opportunities for advancement.

Top 3 in ranking (revenue - euro)

1. Reynaers Aluminium

Martine Reynaers

211.292.640 379

2. Sioen Industries

Michèle Sioen

154.394.636 395

3. Cit Blaton

Sandrine Blaton

134.639.787 261

Fastest climbers in the ranking

1. Levenstond Seafood (79 plaatsen gestegen)

2. Malysse Villers-Le-Bouillet (+76)

3. Princess (+76)

Fastest falling in the ranking

1. Societé Automobile De Waterloo (-83)

2. Pasfrost (-72)

3. Galana (-69)

Most revenue last year

Reynaers Aluminium

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