The number of women leading family businesses is five times higher than it was in the late ‘90s. Given women now outpace men when it comes to getting degrees, that number is likely to increase. But even today, women often face different issues from men when they join the family business.
Sara Corey is one example. When she left for college, she had no intention of coming back to the family farm in Monticello, Maine. She thought she wanted to become a pharmacist. But during her senior year, Corey changed her mind. At 23, she’s director of agronomy at Daniel Corey Farms. She says despite the title, her job involves a bit of everything. “I dabble in sales,” she says. “I’m in the potato house all fall, I’m in the potato house all spring.”
Her dad is delighted she’s back. She even earned the title Young Farmer of the Year from the Maine Potato Board in 2013.
But when Corey goes to meetings with other young farmers, it’s her, “and a lot of guys. And they’re young guys, and they’re trying to make it in the same industry I’m trying to make it in,” she says. “I feel like it takes me longer to earn their respect, and I really have to work for it.”
That’s the kind of thing Ohio-based consultant Amy Katz hears about all the time. She recently started an online community called Daughters in Charge to support women entering the family business. Katz says women coming into a family firm can face a lot of challenges: over-protective dads, skeptical older colleagues, and being the first person ever to request maternity leave.
“The issue of balance takes on another kind of meaning when there isn’t a history of women working in the family business,” says Katz. “She really becomes a pioneer of sorts.”
Katz tells the story of a group of siblings working together in the family firm. They are all owners, she says, but “when the women decide to have children and want to work out a flexible schedule, the men think that isn’t fair. The men are not at a point where they’d think of taking time off themselves,” she adds. “In many family businesses, having women in leadership roles raises issues they haven’t yet had to confront.”
Marty Betagole was something of a pioneer when she joined her father’s vehicle leasing business in Cincinnati more than 30 years ago. She’s now the firm’s president. Her father, at 85, remains the CEO, although he’s largely hands-off. She also has two brothers who work there as vice presidents. But she’s not exactly their boss. “My father has never told them they should report to the president,” Betagole says. “So my guess is they would have difficulty doing that.”
She says for many years there was no organizational chart showing who reported to whom. Although there is one now, she says not having a clearly defined role has affected her confidence over the years.
Sara Corey is feeling more and more comfortable in her job in Maine. She’s using her tech skills to change life on the farm. She’s downloaded an app that lets her check the temperature and humidity of her potato house from anywhere. Her dad and his fellow farmers are agog. “He’ll be like, ‘Sara, show them what you’ve got on your phone!’ And the older guys are like, ‘What is that?’
She says her father is beginning to learn a few business tricks from her.
Ashley Milne-Tyte hosts a podcast about women and the workplace called The Broad Experience.