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The Invisible Giants of Family Business

31 January 2017

The importance of women in family business cannot be understated. From the late ‘90s to 2015, the amount of women running family companies has quintupled.

Despite this progress, less than a quarter of the average family firm’s executive team is composed of women. While women wait for greater acceptance as equals in the business world, many are hard at work behind the scenes.

Adjunct Professor of Family Business at INSEAD France, Christine Blondel, coined the term “invisible giants” to characterize the nature of women who take on crucial, yet unrecognized positions within family businesses. These roles include, but are not limited to:

  • Raising the next generation;
  • Supporting the founding entrepreneur;
  • Interviewing future collaborators;
  • Aiding in bookkeeping or accounting; and
  • Contributing financial capital (bringing funds to the business).

Often, the toughest challenge faced by females is to balance the roles of wife, daughter, leader, co-worker, etc.

Juggling these multiple responsibilities requires women to be great mediators within the family. The greatest problem facing Australian family businesses is communication among family members. 

Luckily, women seem to be better than men at keeping constant communication and thus, normally take on the crucial, yet unofficial role of mediator. Through this key role, women foster family cohesion and support conflict resolution.

 The business prowess of women has allowed many to capture a growing share of official leadership positions. Recent studies find that female managers lower the risk of bankruptcy and improve business performance through superior decision making skills. Women tend to excel in these areas because of their proclivity for communication, making it more likely that they will consult others before finalizing a decision.

 So, every now and then, take a moment to honor the “invisible giants” that have contributed to your family business.

 Many of our resources are focused on the subject of women in family businesses. You can start with the Christine Blondel video here or navigate around the dozens of similar videos once you login here. You might also want to consider looking at our “Women in Enterprising Families Initiative.” This three-module online course aids business women in balancing their multiple roles, while reducing and leveraging their everyday stressors. To access this and the rest of Insight’s online courses and tools, subscribe to a monthly subscription for only $29/month.


Kim Harland is the Managing Director of not-for-profit Insights- Customised Family Business Resources. We provide tools and resources to help family businesses understand and overcome their challenges. You can contact us here.

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