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  • Writer's pictureNike Anani

Women Rising in Glory in African Family Businesses

2020 has been a year of reckoning globally: generations of racial injustice in USA was exposed on a global scale, and led to explosion of the Black Lives Matter ("BLM") movement. Closer to home, Africans were inspired to question systemic injustices on our doorsteps, clamouring against gender sexual violence and sexism. A culmination of suppressed anger and the gift of time provoked many to question societal injustices and to have conversations on how to improve the state of our world.

These same conversations need to be extended to the realm of our Family Businesses. In many Family Businesses, women are explicitly excluded from leadership roles, often automatically deferring to the eldest sons; in others, societal conditioning and reinforcement have led women to excuse themselves from these roles.

In this year of reckoning, we must see that excluding half of our talent pool from leadership and ownership is not only unjust, but it is also detrimental to the trajectory of African Family Businesses: Women often play invisible but critical roles - often as the glue that holds the family together. This is critical in Africa where we have more complex families - larger nuclear families, more integrated extended families and “non-family family”: the definition of family can be philosophical, with many we consider “family” that are not blood-line relatives or in-laws. Women often navigate these complex units skilfully, leading with empathy and emotional intelligence to manage the various factions and promote harmony. It is often weaknesses in the family that hinder the multigenerational continuity of family businesses. So women are critical.

Our 21st century Volatile Uncertain Complex and Ambiguous (“VUCA”) world has given rise to a need for a new breed of enterprise leader that possess empathy, humility, influence and resilience. A lot of these qualities come naturally to women. Many studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between female involvement and business performance: For instance the 2016 “Women Matter Africa” study by McKinsey & Company saw that African firms with highest numbers of female representatives on the company boards had, on average, 20 per cent higher levels of profits compared to the industry standard.

Moments of disruption provide excellent opportunities for transformation.

In this highly disruptive hour, may we seize the opportunity to redefine and reinvent our family businesses to not only be more diverse, but to also be more inclusive and empowering to all.

Diane Mariechild “A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.”

In this disruptive hour, may women awaken to the power that they possess, and the potential that they carry to nurture and transform our family businesses to transition across generations. Part of this awakening requires that women become more courageous, negotiating the obstacles that face them.

Looking back at history, devastating events often provided the right context to provoke transformation both a societal level and on an individual level. For example the 1918 Spanish flu was a propellant for American women socially and financially: it led to a whoosh of entrance of women into the workforce due to worker shortages caused by the flu and World War 1. This trend resulted in a new social norm, and gave rise to increased advocacy for gender rights. Consequently, 2 years later, the 19th Amendment was ratified, where women were granted suffrage.

Similarly the current pandemic may provide the right context to transform the role of African women in family business, starting a new social norm. Women may find allies that champion their causes, as they individually and collectively discover their voices to negotiate the obstacles that face them in family businesses.

Marianne Williamson: “When a woman rises up in glory, her energy is magnetic and her sense of possibility is contagious.”

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