Guest Editorial Gender and Family Business: New Theoretical Directions Abstract Purpose

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Guest Editorial

Gender and Family Business: New Theoretical Directions
Purpose: This editorial aims to investigate the interface between gendered processes and family business by exploring the extent to which gendered processes are reinforced (or not) in family business operations and dynamics. This approach will complement the agency and RBV theoretical bases that dominate family business research (Chrisman et al., 2009), and further contribute to extending gender theories.
Design/methodology/approach: Acknowledging that gender is socially constructed, this editorial discusses the interface between gendered processes and family business within entrepreneurship research.
Findings: Despite a growing interest in gender and family business, there is a limited literature that explores gender theory within family business research. A gender theory approach embracing family business research contributes to a needed theoretical deconstruction of existing perspectives on the operations, sustainability and succession of family businesses in the 21st century.
Originality/value: This article makes a contribution to extant scholarship by extending gender theories through an exploration of the gendered processes in family business research.
Keywords: Gender, family business, entrepreneurship, gendered processes.

Article type: Guest editorial.

The contribution of family businesses accounts for a substantial proportion of the economy (Cabrera-Suarez et al., 2001; Cromie & O’Sullivan, 1999; Davis & Harveston, 1998; Ibrahim et al., 2001; Matthews et al., 1999; Shepherd & Zacharakis, 2000; Stavrou & Swiercz, 1998). As entities owned, controlled and operated by different members of a family (Brockhaus, 2004; Cole, 1997; Cromie & O’Sullivan, 1999; Rowe & Hong, 2000), in the United States and Latin America, family businesses constitute between 80-95% of all businesses, and in Europe and Asia, at least 80% of firms are family owned and family controlled (Poza & Daugherty, 2013). Overall, family businesses account for over 50% of the developed economies’ GDP, and 50% of total employment (Shepherd & Zacharakis, 2000). In the UK over 75% of all businesses are family-owned employing approximately 50% of the national workforce (Harvey, 2004). Thus, the contribution of family-owned firms to the economy cannot be ignored. Despite this dominance of family businesses, a lack of consensus on the exact definition of family business persists and is an indicator of their nascent status (Litz, 1995; Miller et al., 2007). Research on performance of family businesses, succession processes, knowledge management, strategic thinking, decision making processes (Collins et al., 2010), family dynamics and operations (Carlsen & Getz, 2000) continue to dominate this established discipline, especially as less than a quarter of family businesses survive to the second generation, and only about a seventh survive to the third generation (Leach & Bogod, 1999). Indeed, the succession theme dominates the family business literature (Carlsen & Getz, 2000; Chua et al., 2003; Bird et al., 2002), with the role of women and daughters in this succession, and more widely within the family business domain, gaining increasing recognition that extends beyond a focus on their traditional gendered roles (Danes et al., 2005; Sharma, 2004; Barrett & Moores, 2009; Jimenez, 2009; Wang, 2010; Bjursell & Bäckvall, 2011; Heinonen & Stenholm, 2011).
Given the international evidence of the significant transformations in men’s and women’s roles, positioning and leadership within family businesses (Baines & Wheelock, 2000; Cappuyns, 2007; Danes et al., 2005), these evolving dynamics influence theoretical developments as well as the practices of socio-cultural and economic structures and policy initiatives. To this extent, a gender theory approach embracing family business research contributes to a much-needed theoretical re-construction of family businesses in the 21st century. However, gender and gender theory remain largely ignored in family business research. Indeed, in charting the future of family business research, many including Litz, Pearson and Litchfield (2012), disregard gender completely from their agendas. Thus, this special issue confronts and addresses this gap in the extant literature. In doing so, we aim to contribute to the widely articulated call for further research that will enhance our understanding of the family business (Malinen, 2004; Mulholland, 2003; Wang, 2010; Jimenez, 2009). In this new research context, gender emerges as a key consideration.
Gender - a theoretical approach to family business research
Under the spell of the agency and RBV theoretical bases, ‘family’ is mostly presented in the existing family business literature as an undifferentiated concept, and as a result, it is rarely understood as a negotiated phenomenon but rather “automatically attributed by virtue of blood or marriage” (Karra, Tracey & Phillips, 2006: 862). More specifically, agency theory is a broad perspective that focuses on the economic costs that arise whenever ownership and control (managers) are separated and its proponents view family firms as contexts in which their alleged non-separation brings about considerable cost advantages (Schulze, Lubatkin & Dino, 2003). Using the agency theory lens, “kinship thus tempers self-interest” and family-based altruism “compels parents to be generous to their children” (Schulze, Lubatkin and Dino, 2003:180), albeit without stressing its potentially exploitative nature, subordination of women and role for the reproduction of capitalism (see, for example, the decades-old feminist critique Gavron, 1966; Benston, 1972; Oakley, 1974). On the other hand, free-riding, shirking or the consumption of perks by family members that often made their appearance in the relevant literature as agency problems (Karra, Tracey & Phillips, 2006) are generally treated as a common characteristic of intergenerational relationships rather than gendered processes within family businesses. To this extent, the effect of gender on “the politics of value determination that influences a family firm’s vision” and strategy (Chrisman, Chua & Sharma, 2005: 569) is largely ignored.
Using a more specific theoretical angle, the construct of ‘familiness’ as a means of explaining the distinctive bundle of business resources and capabilities related to systemic family interaction has become the backbone of the influential resource-based framework for assessing the strategic advantages of family firms (Habbershon & Williams, 1999). Their members are even considered to “have a ‘family’ language that allows them to communicate more efficiently” (Habbershon & Williams, 1999: 4). However, such a “definition of familiness does not include a temporal dimension” (Pearson, Carr & Shaw, 2008: 951), focuses on a firm’s internal idiosyncrasies, is habitually ethnocentric and therefore, leaves unexplored the changing ‘legitimacy’ of family business relations over time and across space; furthermore, it does not challenge or extend existing knowledge about the gender/family business interface. Interestingly, variety in family structures has been seen by the RBV scholars as closely connected to networking ability, rates of new business venturing, difficulty in shedding resources and patient resource accumulation within the family business (Chrisman, Chua & Sharma, 2005), albeit without paying enough attention to the contingencies of disadvantaged membership. To this extent, a new understanding of family business interactions informed by a gendered perspective is quintessential, while at the same time a call for more research on addressing how the ‘other’ is constructed in family business studies is timely.
Bradley (2007) argued that the spheres of production (the business) and re-production (the family) are intimately connected and co-dependent, and thus (self-) employment and family relationships are extremely important locations of the social ordering of gender. The majority of firms are copreneurial or family ventures where the contribution of all household members is essential for business survival and success (Steier & Greenwood, 2000; Aldrich & Cliff, 2003; Ruef et al., 2003; Brannon et al., 2013). In addition, as stated earlier, if one takes into account the international evidence of the dramatic changes in men’s and women’s roles, positioning and leadership within family businesses (Baines & Wheelock, 2000; Cappuyns, 2007; Danes et al., 2005; Jimenez, 2009), it is reasonable to infer that the theoretical and policy implications of such changes must also be significant.
In recent years, the theoretical developments have been actively pursued in the entrepreneurship domain with scholars introducing gendered analyses and critiques which expose the theoretical constraints and limitations of much of the entrepreneurial research to date (see the recent works of Ahl, 2004, 2006; Marlow & Ahl, 2012; Marlow & McAdam, 2013; Hamilton, 2013; Rouse et al., 2013). These critiques highlight the prevailing entrepreneurial discourse which is essentially masculine, and limits the possibilities of who can claim to be an entrepreneur and what constitutes entrepreneurial behaviour (Ogbor, 2000; Ahl, 2006). Although women’s enterprise is much “more than growing in size” as Rosa, Carter and Hamilton (1996: 463) have exceptionally pointed out almost two decades ago, the contemporary ideal type of entrepreneur is popularly represented as a white male in his prime years [35 – 55] who establishes a venture with an economic imperative (Calás et al., 2009; Redien Collet, 2009; Rindova et al., 2011). Consequently, women are portrayed as outsiders or intruders to this field, and are detrimentally positioned in deficit (Taylor & Marlow, 2009), which undermines the existing and potential contribution that women as both entrepreneurs and family business actors make to economies and societies at large. Ultimately, the performance of the women-owned business is perceived as under-par, condemned for being smaller, risk-averse, lacking growth orientation and dismissed as illegitimate because they are often home-based, part-time, or life-style (Brush, 1992). Indeed, as Marlow (2013: 95) aptly surmises, ‘almost every detrimental business term possible has visited upon the hapless female entrepreneur.’ This is further exacerbated by the assumption within the mainstream research agenda that entrepreneurship is a neutral activity open and accessible to all with an idea, ambition and energy. This discourse of agentic individualism naively overlooks the social, cultural and institutional environments that influence the field (Ahl, 2006; Baughn, Chua & Neupert, 2006).
One institutional environment which is explored in this special issue is that of the family, arguably the single most important social institution founded in all societies. Traditional functionalist approaches to the study of gender roles, such as that of Parsons and Bales (1956) suggested that within the family in a capitalist society there was a need for role specialisation, with men carrying out instrumental roles which involved functioning in the cut-throat world of business. In contrast, the family largely required women to carry out expressive roles of caring and nurturing. The presumed mutual exclusivity of these roles provided justification for the type of family that became dominant: the ‘traditional’ or breadwinner/housewife family (Bradley, 2007). However, in recent decades there has been considerable change in patterns of employment and related changes in patterns of family composition and family demography explained by numerous factors. Interestingly, Aldrich and Cliff (2003) argue that changes in the composition of families that have occurred over time are also altering the opportunities and resources available for venturing.
Despite this, Arber and Ginn (1991) argued that work and family are still autonomous spheres, with apparent advances in women's labour market position failing to translate into commensurate advances in their relative position within the family. Indeed, Ahl (2004: 167) when presenting her analyses of how entrepreneurship articles construct work and family explained, “the existence of a line dividing a public sphere of work from a private sphere of home, family and children is also taken for granted in the entrepreneurship literature”. Interestingly, approaches that combine these two spheres are now present in the institutional entrepreneurship literature (for example, see Bika, 2012), whilst an earlier social capital perspective of the ‘familiness construct’ and its components (Pearson, Carr & Shaw, 2008) made a good start in rectifying this deficiency, and thus saw the family and the business as enmeshed with one another rather as distinct entities. Whilst this is promising for the field of family business entrepreneurship, there is still a tendency for much of the existing literature to conceptualize women in family business as marginalized through the forces of patriarchy or paternalism (Hamilton, 2006).
Thus, the purpose of this special issue is to investigate the interface between gendered processes and family business which, whilst continuously evolving remains under researched within the entrepreneurship domain (Sonfield & Lussier, 2009). In exploring the extent to which gendered processes are reinforced or not in family business operations and dynamics, we aim to shed light on how gendered processes contribute to our understanding of family business. In doing so, our approach will complement the agency and Resource-Based View (RBV) theoretical bases which continue to dominate family business research (Chrisman et al., 2009; Litz et al., 2012), and further contribute to extending gender theories.
Special Issue Rationale
The theme for this special issue was inspired by the Women in Family Business event held at the Norwich Business School (NBS) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in 2011. This one-day conference, sponsored by the Norwich Business School at UEA and the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-000-22-2378), was a collaboration between UEA’s Women, Research and Enterprise Forum (WREF), the Gender and Enterprise Network (GEN) - a special interest group of the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ISBE) - and the Women in Family Business Network. A series of research-focused presentations delivered by Professor Susan Marlow, Dr Zografia Bika, Dr Louise Humphries and Dr Julia Rouse were complemented by a ‘women in family business’ panel facilitated by Dr Haya Al-Dajani. The ‘big questions’ with panellists Michelle Jarrold, Managing Director at Jarrold and Sons Ltd, Emily Norton of Norton Dairies, Patrizia Spada of Italian Delights and Stephanie and Nolly Challis of AmeyCespa previously Donarbon Limited, focused on the importance, uniqueness, recognition and contributions of female family members within their family enterprises. Following the academic presentations and panel discussion, the arising dialogue from the forty five local, regional and national academics, policy makers and practitioners attending the event repeatedly addressed the legitimacy, accountability, gender inequality, and succession issues challenging family businesses as the involvement of female members becomes more prevalent. This event led to the launch of this special issue.
We invited articles that analysed and interpreted gendered processes in family businesses through i) gender theories, ii) agency theory, iii) RBV theory and iv) any other theoretical lens that enhances our understanding of the interface between gendered processes and family businesses. We expected articles to either challenge or extend existing knowledge and theories about the gender/family business interface. Indeed, articles considering and proposing definitions of family business informed by a gendered perspective, and how this is shaped by the social, cultural and business environments, were greatly appreciated. The call for papers attracted a total of eighteen articles. Given the high quality of the articles submitted, the selection process was challenging. The rationale for the five selected articles centred on a representation of the diversity in theoretical approaches and contexts in researching gender and family business. For example, Mary Barrett’s article presents a combination of family business and radical subjectivist economics to enhance theory on women’s entrepreneurship. Robert Smith’s article discusses the theory of matriarchy in entrepreneurship and family business, while Sylvia Chant’s article proposes a theory of the ‘feminization of responsibility and obligation’ that highlights the impact of gender on under-capitalised firms in developing countries. The article by Jonathan Deacon, Jackie Harris and Louise Worth focuses on copreneurship amongst married couples and discusses the gendered tensions embedded in this form of family business. Finally, Jane Glover’s article centres on the farm context and the gender and power dynamics at play in succession. Thus, the five selected articles in this special issue make a unique contribution to the research agendas within the family business research as well as that within the gender and entrepreneurship research.

Special Issue Contributions
As guest editors, we are pleased to present in this special issue five articles that enhance our knowledge of the gendered processes in family business structures, operations, sustainability and succession. Collectively, through empirical analyses and theoretical debates, our selected articles challenge existing norms inherent in the field of family business and entrepreneurship. It has been highlighted that these norms are inherently masculine whereby 'entrepreneurial theories are created by men, for men, and are applied to men' (Holmquist & Sundin, 1988: 1). The heroic, normative figure of the entrepreneur is not only presented as a man, but also the conceptual construction of the ‘family business’ places more emphasis on the business than on the family; thus ignoring the cultural, historical and emotional dynamics intertwined in business and family-life (Katila, 2002).
Responding to specific calls on the necessity of contextualizing entrepreneurship research (Welter, 2011), and enhanced theory driven women’s entrepreneurship research (Rouse et al., 2013), Mary Barrett’s article considers women’s entrepreneurship within the family business context through a radical subjectivist view of economics. She focuses on the various contextual factors around women’s entrepreneurship and takes a first step towards creating the “gender-aware framework of entrepreneurship sought by Brush, de Bruin and Welter (2009) and away from the limitations of a specific feminist ideology. In doing so, this article presents a new theoretical direction for researching gender and family business. The findings relating to the entrepreneurial imagination, empathy, modularity and self-organization challenge the existing view on women’s entrepreneurship and illustrate how the family business context prepares rather than hinders women for leadership and entrepreneurship within, and beyond this specific context. These results were obtained from data collected through a case study approach with 16 women in leadership positions in family businesses in the U.S., the Middle East, the U.K., Southeast Asia, Canada, and Australia. This article presents a thorough agenda of future research recommendations addressing gender and the family business.

Moving from a radical subjectivist approach, Robert Smith’s article on the theory of matriarchy confronts the universality of traditional reflections of family businesses as entrepreneurship stories, and challenges researchers to critically consider how we portray women in family businesses, and how we narrate their stories. He considers patriarchy, matriarchy and the entrepreneurial family, suggesting that family businesses can act as matriarchies of “social and economic reciprocity” as well as “egalitarian societies of consensus”. This reframing of family business in terms of the matriarchal role presents an interesting departure from the traditional typography of family firms. In focusing on the role of the matriarch in family business, Robert Smith discusses the roles and power positions that women can attain within family businesses, and examines the contextual processes through which these are either enabled or constrained. He argues that when the business is an extension of the family, matriarchy presents an epitome platform from where women can exert influence on the daily matters of the family business. In considering matriarchy as a symbolic space, and recognizing that gender and entrepreneurship are ‘situated practices’ acted and performed within this space (Bruni et al., 2004), Robert Smith similarly to Mary Barrett acknowledges the importance of context in entrepreneurship (Welter, 2011).

In her article; ‘Gender, Power and Succession in Family Farm Business’, Jane Glover’s discussions are very relevant to improving our understanding of how power operates within the succession process in small firms, and in doing so, corresponds to Robert Smith’s theory of matriarchy. Glover’s article takes an ethnographic approach to study a small family farm in the Midlands of England (UK), and demonstrates how power struggles and gender issues face one daughter as she becomes a partner and future successor in the family business. Daughter succession is a particularly under-researched area, and so this case study provides useful insights into what is an increasingly common scenario. To this extent, Glover’s article turns the focus of scholarly enquiry away from the role of traditional farmers’ wives and shows how contemporary women enter the farm business through succession rather than marriage in the twenty-first century. In this family business context, gender bias emerges as a determinant of routine farm management but not of strategy.
In her article, Sylvia Chant presents a different thesis resulting from a context focusing on the gender dimension of ‘undercapitalised’ family businesses in developing countries. Here, Chant uses a revisionist concept of ‘the feminisation of poverty’ and proposes a thesis on the ‘feminisation of responsibility and obligation’. We learn that poor women are mostly ‘self-employed’ and ‘home-based’ rather than ‘managers’ within formal family firms. Drawing from the experience of the Global South (with a special emphasis on urban slums) and its prevailing feminisation of anti-poverty initiatives (e.g. micro-finance, food hand-outs, machinery, vocational or infrastructural support), Chant argues that the economic empowerment of women and their engagement in remunerative activity is not a sufficient solution to their gendered privations. In any case, the large number of female-headed households does not represent a good indicator of disadvantage per se (as assumed by ‘the feminisation of poverty’ perspective), but rather covers up the intricacies of poverty management at the grassroots. In developing countries, poor women are currently taking greater economic, labour and time-consuming responsibilities for dealing with household poverty (e.g. debt, care work and low-paid or informal employment), but are not commensurately improving their negotiating capacity with spouses and other personal rewards and rights such as business ownership, employer’s status, occupational prestige, asset control or simply, leisure. To this extent, gender disadvantage in the Global South manifests itself less in entrepreneurship (poor women’s own account business ventures) and more in family business management issues.
Finally, set in South East Wales (UK), the article by Jonathan Deacon, Jackie Harris and Louise Worth does not specifically explore ‘family business’ but acknowledges heterosexual copreneurship within a sub group of the wider small business domain (Marshack, 2004). Here, the authors highlight that not all husband and wife teams are copreneurial, and that within copreneurial teams, not all members are entrepreneurial. Their exploratory study challenges the perception of the gendered division of labour within the copreneurial heterosexual business, and thus the assumption/stereotype of the male entrepreneur as the lead. Their study seeks to discover granularity within the entrepreneurship domain - especially the social construct, and thus the contextualised conceptualisation of small firms - exploring the socialised detail of the descriptor of ‘copreneurship.’
Jonathan Deacon, Jackie Harris and Louise Worth suggest that copreneurship is a gendered process and not a process of gender whereby the former suggests a fluidity of psychological application and the latter a fixed physiological typology. Their argument supports the established notion that as a socially constructed process, copreneurship can exist in any structure, process or context where two or more people are gathered. The article questions whether or not gendered identities are ‘hybrid’, and as such, also questions the appropriateness of ascribing the husband and wife (son/father, mother/daughter) labels, which in themselves have gendered connotations and carry defined societal expectations of roles (McAdam & Marlow, 2010).
This special issue contributes to addressing the gap between family business, gender and entrepreneurship by presenting five articles that offer alternative theoretical approaches to researching gender in family businesses. A common thread among our selected articles supports the exploration of further gendered critique in two future research directions. First, how leadership is understood through a gender lens in family businesses. This can be approached through a radical subjectivism perspective considering shared and individual leadership in the context of business families’ propensity to innovate (Farrington, Venter & Bischoff, 2012; Litz & Kleyson, 2001). Second, moving beyond conventional assumptions of ‘the family unit’ to include studies that recognise single parent families, same sex couples, step families and extended families will provide much scope to employ gender as an analytical tool to advance more robust theoretical debates. Both directions offer ample research opportunities to explore gendered processes in the family business, which remain imperative (Al-Dajani & Marlow, 2010), especially given the potential threats to women’s roles within the family business.
Furthermore, in terms of future research in family business, applying radical subjectivism with its individualistic leanings toward family business issues could complement efforts towards developing research agendas into areas of family business strategy such as shared leadership in family firms, although we acknowledge the potential methodological challenges of doing so. Future research may also explore further the effects of temporal dimensions on gender and business management, including daily operations and strategic direction. This would be a potentially useful and relevant theme for the wider family business research area.

We also encourage longitudinal research approaches as these allow for the exploration of change in gender dynamics, gender stereotypes, business management and family and business life-cycles. In addition, their outcomes will be useful in informing policy, practice and family business consultancy whereby the implications and potential effects of gender on the family and the family business can play a significant role in determining management, succession, and other plans, strategies and decisions.

Finally, in drawing on the articles in this special issue, we concur that entrepreneurship research, policy and practice should be released from the domination by the masculine ‘hero narrative’ through a reconsideration of those images, narratives and discourses that we ourselves have constructed to research, describe and define entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial practices.

Acknowledgments: We would like to acknowledge and express our sincere thanks to all the contributors, reviewers, the IJGE editorial team, funding bodies (ESRC RES-000-22-2378) and the networks that brought us together, the sponsors, speakers and participants of the Women in Family Business event where this special issue was born, and the readers of this special issue. In addition, we would also like to acknowledge all the submissions that we were unable to include in this special issue. We hope that those articles have found suitable journal outlets and we look forward to seeing them published in the near future.
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About the Authors:
Dr Haya Al-Dajani: Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management, at the Norwich Business School, University of East Anglia (UEA), UK. Her research focuses on gender, entrepreneurship and empowerment. Her overall research aim is the understanding of the intersectionality of these three dimensions, and their collective impact on economic and social development. Her research has been published in journals including the ‘International Small Business Journal’, ‘Gender, Work and Organization’ and the ‘International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour & Research’. E-mail:
Dr Zografia Bika: Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship, at the Norwich Business School, University of East Anglia (UEA), UK. Prior to this post, she held the prestigious George David Research Fellowship in family business and social change at the University of Edinburgh Business School. Her research interests focus on rural, family and institutional entrepreneurship issues. She has published in various journals including ‘Entrepreneurship and Regional Development’, ‘Environment and Planning A’, ‘The Sociological Review’ and ‘Sociologia Ruralis’. Her family business research has been supported by a UK Economic and Social Research Grant (RES-000-22-2378) in which she was the lead researcher. E-mail:
Dr Lorna Collins: Director of Learning Futures, Falmouth University. Her research interests are family business succession and social innovation. Lorna co-founded Knowing and Growing Ltd., a social enterprise that seeks to improve the intellectual property knowledge within social enterprises, in 2010 when she also co-founded the Institute for Conscious Business, whose purpose is to promote awareness of positive actions and practices within business so that businesses can benefit society as a whole. Lorna co-founded and is co-editor of the Journal of Family Business Management, a fully refereed academic journal published by Emerald Ltd., first published in April 2011, which is dedicated to advancing management research in family business and aimed at practitioners, family business owners and academics. E-mail:
Dr Janine Swail: Lecturer in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Nottingham University Business School within the University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI). Janine’s research interests are in nascent entrepreneurship, and in particular how women navigate the entrepreneurial process. She is also interested in the role of media and culture in influencing entrepreneurial intentions, particularly among young people. She is currently on the Board of Trustees for Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ISBE) and is a former Associate Editor of the International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research. E-mail:

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