In their study to be published in the Journal of Business Ethics, Tawhid Chtioui and his co-authors evaluate the relationship between the appointment of women to CEO or Chair positions and firm performance, and shed light on the differences between family and nonfamily firms.


‘Male, pale and stale’

Ever since McKinsey & co published its landmark analysis showing that companies with the highest proportion of women leaders deliver the best returns for their shareholders it’s been a given that gender balance in the board room is vital.

However, despite legislation, quotas, selective recruiting and a whole host of other initiatives corporate leadership still remains firmly dominated by males. A recent survey in the US, for example, established that only 5% of Fortune 1000 companies has a female CEO, while in Australia only 3% of listed companies had a female Chair. And in Europe, the picture is a similarly dismal one with just 3.3% of companies employing a woman in these top jobs.

But while so many companies still struggle to tackle the challenge of gender balance in the centres of power, it seems that family-owned businesses have made much greater progress in this area with proportionally more female leaders than their counterparts.

So does their experience back up McKinsey & Co’s findings?

Family and non-family companies – the right person in the right place

Here in France, where more than 70% of firms are family-owned, we looked at the performance of 394 companies over a ten year period to examine the evidence. And, interestingly, we found that, while the answer was a definite ‘yes’, it was a qualified yes.

In simple terms we found that hiring women as board Chairs is more valuable for family firms than it is for non-family firms – perhaps because women Chairs in family firms are more likely to use a leadership style that embraces the particular needs and characteristics of these types of businesses– often referred to as ‘transformational leadership’.

Conversely, we found that female CEOs actually perform better in non-family companies – dispelling the stereotypical idea that roles requiring ‘transactional’ leadership, which is often associated with a more ‘task orientated’ and ‘directive’ management style, are better filled by men in these environments.

So what does this mean for corporate boards? The research clearly shows that family firms should seriously consider female candidates when looking to appoint a Chairperson – and – firms should think carefully about the attributes a woman could bring to the CEO position.

But, regardless of how you cut it, what is very clear is that both family and non-family firms could benefit from more female leadership at the very top of the company tree. And now is the time to act.

Tawhid Chtioui, emlyon business school

Tawhid Chtioui

Professor and Dean emlyon business school Africa, my research essentially focuses on performance management issues including management control and organizational changes, soft controls effectiveness, governance and organizational performance. My actual work mainly focuses on African issues and contexts. I held scientific and management functions in various business schools in France and taught in various schools and Universities in France and international. I am also a serial entrepreneur and carried on consulting and professional training activities.

More information on Tawhid Chtioui:
• His CV online
His ResearchGate page

Further reading…

  • Nekhili, M., Chakroun, H., Chtioui, T. (2016). Women’s Leadership and Firm Performance: Family Versus Nonfamily Firms. Journal of Business Ethics, forthcoming. DOI: 10.1007/s10551-016-3340-2.
    Read abstract online