Surprisingly primogeniture is still an accepted approach to family business succession planning in most Western economies. This is even more surprisingly given the backdrop of women’s increasing participation in the global workforce in general and in the family business context in particular. In fact, daughters are often not socialized for family business leadership and are usually overlooked during the grooming process. Moreover, daughter succession is generally an inadvertent event that is triggered by a crisis or when there is no viable male successor. My recent paper with Martina Brophy from DCU National Centre for Family Business and Professor Richard Harrison from the University of Edinburgh, shows that establishing credibility as the next heir can be particularly challenging for daughters.
Our empirical evidence is based on a study of five Irish family businesses in which the father chose a daughter to succeed him when there was an eligible son in the business and in so doing, went against cultural and social norms.To be eligible to take part in the research, the father had to be alive at the time of the interviews and each daughter had to have a brother who featured in the business.We thus conducted a series of interviews with both fathers and daughters in order to examine the strategies and barriers that women must engage and overcome in order to be recognised as the legitimate leader by both family and non-family members and wider stakeholders such as customers and suppliers.
The findings highlight how daughters have to engage in greater efforts than sons to overcome perceptions of gender inequality and build a legitimate successor identity, and to be recognised as the company’s leader by both family and non-family members and wider stakeholders, as the role of successor is traditionally male and the right of the eldest son. Furthermore, although daughters rely on certain father-daughter relations such as preparation, endorsement and credibility by association for legitimacy, they also need to develop independently from their father in order to heighten their own visibility and establish credibility. While adequate preparation is important for all successors, regardless of gender, this study finds that an early grooming process is particularly vital for daughters in building a legitimate successor identity.
Some of the ways in which female successors were found to be doing this was by adopting a different style of leadership to their fathers (typically moving away from a traditional top-down approach) and introducing radical ideas or significant changes to make their mark. In short, daughter successors must engage in particular forms of identity work if they are to overcome the general invisibility of women in family businesses.
This research was featured in the Irish Times on the 9th of Oct 2020
McAdam, M., Brophy, M., and Harrison, R.T., 2020. Anointed or appointed? Father-daughter succession within the family business. International Small Business Journal, p.0266242620948349