Guiding Her Legacy: Advisors Empower Women As Family Business Trailblazers

How Advisors Help Women In Multigenerational Client Families Reach Their Full Potential

It has taken decades but at long last we are in a time when more women are taking their rightful leadership positions throughout our society. As little as 30 years ago, fewer than 1% of Fortune 500 companies had a female CEO. Today, 52 women (10%) hold that distinction, and 13 of them only stepped up to those roles in the past year. The relative numbers look a little better in government with 12 woman governors (24%), 25 senators (25%) and 128 congresswomen (29%).

Today women account for slightly more than half of the U.S. population, so they are still underrepresented in leadership positions in business and government – but things are changing. I see this in the client families we work with where more women are stepping up and assuming greater positions of leadership in their family enterprises. Although gender does not decide destiny, I’ve seen women in families acting differently than the men, approaching their work and lives in contrasting ways.

Historical Leadership

Historically women have been discouraged from holding visible leadership positions and effectively had to lead more quietly from behind the scenes. Because they have influenced others rather than overpowering or forcing them into acquiescence, women’s contributions have often gone unrecognized. But in recent years we have seen more women rise to leadership positions due to their ability to make connections and include others as they work to resolve difficult situations.

This inclusive approach that allows more family members to participate in family governance, which differs from that of their male counterparts, is helping more women be recognized as family leaders. Their power and influence within families will increase.

These women see leadership as part of the relationships between the senior generations and their siblings, and the raising and educating of their children.

These women see leadership as part of the relationships between the senior generations and their siblings, and the raising and educating of their children. These women leaders are often also responsible for the more traditional role of the family “caretaker,” maintaining its culture and raising productive children.

New Era Leadership

In this new era for female leadership in families and businesses, daughters are more often viewed as potential successors, however, they still face a more complicated path to leadership than their brothers. One of the things that seems most promising about the current environment is that the young women we work with possess the self-confidence to ask for leadership training and opportunities to be mentored rather than trying to “fake it ’til they make it.”

This desire to seek out advice presents tremendous opportunities for advisors who can provide thoughtful counsel, fill in financial knowledge gaps and suggest additional resources.

Mentoring the third and fourth generations

Another positive sign among the rising generation is a new desire among third and fourth generations to be engaged in the family enterprise. For many families, initiating younger generations has always been on an informal, ad hoc, occasional or one-off basis, if there was any interest at all. But in a growing number of families, more of the senior generation, particularly women, have realized that as families grow and expand, mentoring has to be more intentional if they are really serious about leadership development and preserving the family enterprise.

Women of the baby boomer generation and older also have different motivations than their male counterparts and even younger women. They painfully remember how hard it was for them to be a leader, so they tend to be more thoughtful and willing to help the next generation on their leadership journeys, but sometimes they cannot do it alone.

An Advisor’s Role

In one of the families that we work with, the younger generations felt frustrated because they wanted to be part of the family enterprise but did not know how to get started. We helped them set up a mentorship program that cuts across generations, across different branches of the family as well as across genders.

An unexpected benefit is the tremendous amount of reverse mentoring. They found that the older folks can help the younger generation understand the family business and provide valuable background, while learning about advances in technology and social media that their mentees have grown up with and understand intuitively.

Another example of how advisors can help manage intergenerational dynamics is to start a leadership development cohort like we conducted for women in their 20s and 30s. One of those women was particularly serious about becoming a family leader but did not know how to get there. We suggested she work with a leadership coach who has been helping her develop a personal brand of leadership that will work within her family structure.

Another woman in the cohort indicated that she would like to work on an MBA but that was not a practical solution since she had a young child. Instead of an on-campus program, we directed her to some online executive education courses. She could complete these courses on her own schedule, and they would give her the knowledge she needed and the credentials to back it up.

Advising wealthy multigenerational families and helping the women in them reach their full potential calls for advisors to be coaches as much as financial planners.

Advising wealthy multigenerational families and helping the women in them reach their full potential calls for advisors to be coaches as much as financial planners and investment managers. Advisors can do their clients a tremendous service by embracing that role and helping to bridge that gap between generations, genders and extended branches of the family.

Amy Hart Clyne is Chief Knowledge and Learning Officer at Pitcairn, a multifamily office and wealth management firm located in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

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