Women in family businesses

01:05 AM February 26, 2016


“Why do we have to append the adjective ‘woman’ or ‘female’ in front of CEO, GM, or entrepreneur?” asks my friend Linda, a feisty 50-something second-generation head of their family trading business.

“I get it. Women are still under-represented in business, whether in the corporate world or in SMEs. But to highlight the fact that a business leader is a woman has a patronizing tone to it—that we have managed to lean in even harder, as Sheryl Sandberg would put it, or that somehow by dint of luck or open-minded male colleagues, we have somehow managed to get our foot in the door, and to touch the glass ceiling.”


Surely, focusing on women leaders can create a multiplier effect, I say. I remind Linda that both of us have been fortunate enough not to have encountered any, if at all, overt or covert discrimination against women in our respective fields: hers in trading, mine in the academe.

Linda’s mother was the matriarch, Linda now is the head, and soon her niece may be at the helm of their business. In my case, several of best leaders that Ateneo de Manila University ever had were women: Patricia Licuanan, Mari-Jo Ruiz, Antonette Angeles, Achoot Cuyegkeng, Banjo Bautista Marlu Vilches, among others.


I remind Linda about women in power: former presidents, senators, tax head, chief justice, ombudswoman. Business leaders such as Teresita Sy-Coson of SM, Josephine Gotianun of Filinvest, Robina Gokongwei of Robinsons, Oprah Winfrey, Mary Barra of General Motors, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, and so on.

“But that’s precisely my point,” Linda says. “We may be the exceptions, but in this millennium, why should men still be the natural choice for top positions? Filipinos generally imitate American ways, so why are we still so backward when it comes to women in business?”

Worldwide phenomenon

There’s the rub. Even in the United States, where women arguably have garnered privileges many of their sisters across the globe can only dream of, women are hugely under-represented. Statistics are not needed: in practically all enterprises, men outnumber women by significant margins, even in supposedly gender-neutral zones like Silicon Valley, where for a single Marissa Mayer, you easily have a dozen Larry Pages.

The reason? Biology and culture. Women do not just carry children for nine months, but need maternity leave to physically care for them as best they can. Mayer famously decided to come back to work right after giving birth, but she has a nanny and enough resources to ensure family well-being.

This might not be the case for many women here, especially those who prefer to breastfeed, those who have had caesarean sections, those who were debilitated by pregnancy, childbirth, late nights, irregular feedings, colicky babies.

Men today are more likely to help out in raising children, but women still bear most of the responsibilities of child-rearing, at least for the first few years after children are born.


What can help? More enlightened policies that can finally permeate our macho culture. Several men, especially the young ones, welcome this shift. Many of my male college students swear they would take the backseat if their spouses would earn more in the future. The stigma of becoming househusbands is disappearing; after all, more women graduate from college in the United States, and perhaps the Philippines.

If education is erasing the disparity between genders, shouldn’t the workplace, including family businesses, catch up? “We don’t want to be treated with kid gloves,” says Linda. “But society should recognize our biological differences, instead of lambasting or pretending they do not exist.” Linda suggests ways for women to climb up the ladder without being penalized for who they are.

Empowering women

Flexi-time for women employees. Paid leave beyond what is mandated by law, particularly for family emergencies. Childcare in the workplace, where mothers can leave their young children and focus on work, secure in the knowledge that their kids are being cared for.

According to the 2012 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), quoted by B. Paul Santos in “Forbes Philippines” last August 2015 (an issue dedicated to women leaders), “In emerging markets, women reinvest 90 percent of every additional dollar of income in ‘human resources’—their families’ education, health, nutrition, etc. versus only 30 to 40 percent for men.”

“Think of women’s increased income and assets as a two-to-three-times gender dividend driving family, community and country well-being.”

Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the board of directors of Ateneo de Manila University’s Family Business Development Center. Get her book “Successful Family Businesses” at the University Press (e-mail [email protected]) E-mail the author at [email protected]

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TAGS: Antonette Angeles, Family Trading Business, Mari-Jo Ruiz, Patricia Licuanan, Sheryl Sandberg, Women Entreprenuer
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