Daughters in business?

One of the few things I admire about Donald Trump is this:  He treats Ivanka, his daughter, at par (or better) than his sons in the family business and the presidency. In The Trump Organization, she has significant ownership and managerial responsibilities. In the White House, she’s Advisor to the President and has wide powers.

In contrast, in most business families, it’s the son that gets involved in the family business. It’s rare finding a daughter involved in the business. The patriarchs thinking is one of the following

  • A wife goes where her husband goes. If the husband wants to settle in another city/country, she’s not going to be able to manage the business from there
  • Children need their mother. If she’s involved in the business, either the business or the children, or both suffer

Times are changing. City of residence is becoming a joint decision.  And child rearing responsibilities have become more gender neutral.  Success stories of daughters running family businesses have increased in the last decade. The best is that of 34-year old Lavanvya Nalli, the Vice-Chairperson of Nalli Saris. What’s so great about her story? One, she’s got the meatier role in the $ 100 million family business than her brother. Her father has also stepped back from running the business. Two, her involvement in the family business has continued after marriage and a child. Three, she’s been given part ownership of the business along with her brother. Four, and perhaps most importantly, her husband runs his own business. A business unrelated to Lavanya’s family business.

There are other success stories. Tanya and Nisa Godrej, the Reddy sisters of Apollo Hospital, the Paul sisters of Apeejay Surendra Group, Laxmi Venu of Tafe and TVS. And many of these ladies taking over are not because there are no sons to take over the family business. They are getting involved even when there are male inheritors in the business.

So, is there anything a patriarch can do to increase the chances of his daughter successfully joining the family business? Fortunately, there are several ways to improve the odds. So, instead of leaving it to chance, use these four daughter-friendly tips.

Tip #1: Gender equality begins at home

Our views on gender roles are largely based on the roles we encounter in our family, society and media. It helps to have a home where women have respect, an equal say in decisions and an opportunity to follow their passions. It sounds like pretty generic stuff. Yet, studies show that these things make a world of a difference to a daughter’s confidence

We emulate the examples we see as children. Ashni Biyani, Kishore Biyanis daughter, manages children while performing a full-time job as the MD of Future Consumer. She says, “She wants her children to see her work”. Women working in full-time jobs sets future gender expectations from the children.

Political leaders are setting good examples for businesspersons to emulate. The New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Arden gave birth while in office, and after a 6-week break was back in office. Her husband took time off to look after the child.

Tip #2: Don’t overdo opportunity

When trying to give opportunity, we often overcompensate. Leave something for your daughter to figure out.  Make her struggle and earn her place in your organization.  Struggle is important to make a person grow.  We tend to take for granted things we get to easily. 

The other important thing is to not create an artificial role in the organization.  While important for sons as well, it’s particularly common for daughters to be given a role which, all truth be told, doesn’t matter.  How do you know it’s a role which doesn’t matter?  Any role which can’t be succinctly described, or which can’t or doesn’t have any performance metrics usually doesn’t matter. 

Tip #3: Make the business female-friendly

You don’t need to discriminate against males to improve gender diversity in the workplace.  Making a business female-friendly and giving equal opportunity will automatically improve diversity.  Some of the things you can do to make the business female friendly?  Safety and security, having strongly enforced sexual harassment policies, and fair maternity leave.  The best test is whether your daughter feels comfortable in the working environment.  If she’s not, your business isn’t female-friendly. 

Tip #4: Consider not involving the son-in-law

There are examples where sons-in-law have been (seemingly) successful in the family business.  For instance, Shikhar Malhotra is married to Roshni Nadar and has several executive and non-executive roles in HCL Group companies.  Yet, getting a son-in-law involved in the family business can be risky.  They’ll always want to prove their worth and their value to the company.  And that they aren’t there just because they married the right person.  That can lead to errors in judgement and ego-clashes.  And they won’t have the same emotional attachment to the business which gives family businesses their special zing. 

Bottomline: avoid involving sons-in-law in the family business. 

Closing thoughts

When growing up, sons are often actively asked the question, “Would you like to take over the family business”.  Daughters need to be asked that question equally.  And given an equal opportunity as sons to be involved the Family Business.  Various studies claim that women in management helps company performance. A BCG study claims that if women and men participated equally as entrepreneurs, the global GDP would rise by around 3 to 6%. India needs more women in business than it needs flashy weddings.

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