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Celebrating Women in Family Business this International Women’s Day

This International Women's Day we are so proud to celebrate all the incredible women in family business, and the contributions they make to their businesses, families and the wider community. Hear from seven women in family business as they open up about their experiences in family business and give advice for how we can empower the next generation of female leaders.

8 March, 2024
Women in Family Business, Article, Family Business, Family Business Owners
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This International Women's Day we are so proud to celebrate all the incredible women in family business, and the contributions they make to their businesses, families and the wider community.

Hear from seven women in family business as they open up about their experiences in family business and give advice for how we can empower the next generation of female leaders.

Louise Barkle
Director and Strategist, Plan + Do Headquarters
Shiree Bennett
General Manager, Bennetts Steel
Cecily McGuckin
CEO and Managing Director, Queensland Steel & Sheet
Katrina Naish
Founder, A Fitting Connection and Creative Community Space
Jasmine Powell
Director and Operator, Powell’s Fromagerie and Wine Bar
Despina Voudouris
Director, T & C Investments Pty Ltd

Ellen Wundersitz
Managing Director, SpaceCraft Joinery   

Tell us about your experience of being a woman in your family business?

Shiree Bennett: As a woman in a family business, I have actively taken on the leadership role from my father. By implementing strategic goals for our business and navigating its challenges, I lead with confidence and competence, showcasing that gender is not a barrier to effective leadership, particularly in our male-dominated industry.

Louise Barkle: My journey has been one of making my own rules and breaking traditional ones, navigating tough decisions initially on my own, until my sister joined me 3 years after starting the business. I was fortunate enough to be raised by entrepreneurial and innovative farming parents, who encouraged me to embark on the path of establishing my own business and to this day are the biggest supporters of what we do in the business world.

Despina Voudouris: T & C Investments was a male-led company with our brother and dad at the helm in a male dominated industry. We are now an all-female led family business, which led to massive work culture turn around. The hardest challenge that I have encountered as a woman in family business, has been dealing with some stakeholders who don’t acknowledge, nor respect women in leadership roles. However, slowly and surely, we have gained trust, you just need to develop conducive strategies to chip away a little bit at a time.

What support systems or networks have been instrumental in your success as a woman in a family business?

Ellen Wundersitz: The support and network developed through my FBA Forum Group has been invaluable. Over the past seven years, I've forged enduring relationships with fellow group members who share similar experiences in family business dynamics. These relationships have fostered trust and understanding, enabling open discussions about both business challenges and personal/family dynamics. The diverse viewpoints have helped me appreciate the enriched problem-solving discussions, as well as fresh approaches to complex issues.

Louise Barkle: Plan and Do HQ wouldn't be where it is without our support network made up of family and close friends, and even though it was established before I had my son, they have been instrumental in our success and continued growth through 12 months of fertility treatments and since my son was born 2 years ago. From day care pick-ups to making meals during peak business times, our support network jumps in without hesitation when needed to keep our household running.

Despina Voudouris: The monthly FBA Women's Forum Group provides me with insurmountable peer support. We have the opportunity to discuss family business dynamics, access professionals and to grow professionally and personally. This for me has been a game changer in how I lead our team and run the family business.

Additionally, I have a wonderful group of leading businesswomen (in Gold Coast and in Darwin) where we provide ongoing support to each other on a need be basis via phone calls. We are each other’s ‘support circle’.

Jasmine Powell: There are multiple avenues that have been instrumental in the success of Powells. Family support from Mumma Powell, who not only oversees the day-to-day operations but also is a family member who understands the unique challenges and dynamics of running a family business. Connecting with other women in business has been crucial to the success, this is through reaching out via instagram or catching up for coffee.

Katrina Naish: Finding like-minded team members and understanding their skillsets, strengths, and interests. These women have not only been a massive support, but they have also been my champions. Including them in the growth and development of the business has given them a voice, helped them connect their passions with employment and find a work-life balance.

Shiree Bennett: My commitment to community involvement extends beyond the family business, as I actively engage in various networking and community activities. Proudly affiliated with the Hastings Business Women's Network, Orange Sky and recently becoming a leading member of the Wauchope Chamber of Commerce. Joining this dynamic community has granted me invaluable opportunities to network, collaborate, and contribute to the growth and prosperity of our local business landscape.

Can you share a memorable moment or achievement from your time in the family business?

Cecily McGuckin: For me, it's the little instances of recognition, such as when a customer reaches out to express their satisfaction with how I manage the business, or when a staff member shares their admiration for my leadership style and confidence in approaching me with any concerns. This is what truly matters to me.

Shiree Bennett: One of the most memorable moments that comes to mind, was winning the Family Business Excellence Award for NSW in 2022 and the Legacy Family Business Awards for NSW/ACT in 2023. These accolades were both an incredible honour, one that has deeply touched me on both a personal and professional level. As the torchbearer of my family's business, stepping into the shoes once filled by my father was both a daunting and humbling experience. I inherited not just a company, but a legacy built on hard work and dedication. Every decision I make, every strategy I implement, carried with it the weight of ensuring that I honoured and preserved the values and traditions that had been instilled in me from a young age. Winning these awards, particularly being ‘Family Business’ awards, was a validation of the countless hours of sacrifice and dedication that my family and I have poured into our business.

Despina Voudouris: I am proud of how our family business has grown despite the adversities encountered in losing two key and instrumental family members, my brother and father. In September 2023, there was a key project that came into fruition for our family business that was 5 years in the making. It was a dream of my dad’s that he wanted to achieve. My sister and I managed with quite a bit of perseverance and determination to bring it to reality. When we achieved it, I cried, and I actually ‘felt’ my dad and brother were with me on the day the project was completed.

Katrina Naish: This year we realise our goal of opening a space that allows us to run our own classes and workshops as well as a resource recovery centre which has all been made possible by Melbourne Polytechnic. This will allow us to have more control over the workshops and classes we run and be able to support the community further to divert textiles from landfill.

Jasmine Powell: At just under a year in operation, Powells Fromagerie and Wine Bar was recognised as one of Perth's Top 10 Wine Bars on Urban List. We also received an Honorable Mention in Broadsheet for new wine bars and a coveted spot in Broadsheet's Best Cheese Shops in Australia.

Ellen Wundersitz: One of our most significant achievements at SpaceCraft occurred in August 2021 with the completion of our purpose-built facility in Strathalbyn. Despite the uncertainty and challenges posed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to move ahead with the project, recognising the crucial need for more space due to our team's growth. The new facility doubled our manufacturing floor space, providing a purpose-built showroom and design studio. The new facility has not only met our operational needs but has enhanced collaboration, teamwork, and a positive work culture within our family business.

In what ways do you foster a culture of inclusivity and diversity within your family business, and what impact has it had on the business' success?

Despina Voudouris: I have brought a more inclusive leadership style to T & C Investments, and I have driven the family business to thrive. We provide flexible work arrangements, have an open-door policy, oil diffusers, daily morning coffees - were we discuss our issues and provide support, a round table of ‘How is your Heart?’, and 'spiritual cards' that we pull out weekly for our emotional wellbeing.

Shiree Bennett: I believe in fostering a culture where talent knows no gender boundaries. Despite being traditionally labelled as a male-dominated industry, we take immense pride in achieving a nearly equal representation of both men and women within our workforce. This balance isn’t just a statistic; it’s a testament to our commitment to inclusivity and equal opportunity.

One of our longest-serving staff members and a master in his field retired earlier this year, leaving behind not just a legacy of expertise but also a noticeable void in our business. Recognising the need for a seamless transition, I saw great potential in one of our dedicated female apprentices. Breaking the traditional mold, this talented individual not only stepped into the lead role, but is now proudly our Head of Fabrication.

What initiatives or changes do you believe are necessary to create more opportunities for women's leadership and advancement in family businesses?

Despina Voudouris: I think the initiatives to create opportunities for women’s leaderships and advancement in Family Business are fundamentally simple and yet appears to be quite complex. For me it’s about creating environments that foster and value the individual, providing opportunities for leadership to flourish.

Cecily McGuckin: As a female CEO in a traditionally male-dominated industry, I recognise the importance of creating more opportunities for women's leadership and advancement, particularly in family businesses like ours. Here are some initiatives and changes I believe are necessary:

  • Promote a Culture of Inclusion: Foster a workplace culture that values diversity and inclusivity.
  • Invest in Leadership Development: Provide targeted leadership development programs, focusing on skills such as negotiation, strategic thinking, and assertive communication.
  • Create Clear Advancement Pathways: Ensure that promotion and advancement criteria are transparent and based on merit, rather than subjective biases.
  • Lead by Example: As the only female CEO in our industry, I am committed to leading by example and advocating for gender equality at all levels of our organisation. By championing women's leadership and actively supporting the advancement of female employees, we can create a more inclusive and diverse workplace culture.

These initiatives, among others, can help pave the way for more women to succeed and thrive in leadership positions within family businesses like ours.

What advice would you give to other women aspiring to succeed in family businesses?

Louise Barkle: Surround yourself with other women leading businesses or are in positions you aspire to reach. These are the women who will become your community, your guiding lights and help propel you forward as a leader and business owner.

Shiree Bennett: One of my favourite quotes is "Don't tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon". I am a strong believer in positive visualisation and honestly believe you can make anything happen if you give it everything you have. My three awesome children inspire me every day in all that they do and achieve.

Katrina Naish: Follow your dreams and aspirations. Keep turning over the stones when you hit roadblocks, there is always more ways forward than the road you were on.

Ellen Wundersitz: My advice to other women aspiring to succeed in family business is to prioritise finding a balanced approach between home and work life commitments. It's important to recognise the societal norms that often place a disproportionate burden of expectation on women for caregiving responsibilities, whether it's for children or ageing parents. I've observed a really positive shift within my own family, where simple acts of sharing meal preparation, taking turns attending health appointments for kids, and encouraging each other to prioritise self-care has helped to create more space for meaningful engagement at work. By fostering an environment of mutual respect and shared responsibilities, women can thrive and make meaningful contributions to family businesses while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Cecily McGuckin: Be Confident in Your Abilities; Find Your Voice; Build a Support Network; Embrace Continuous Learning; Navigate Challenges with Grace; Lead with Authenticity; Be Bold and Take Risks; Celebrate Your Successes and Never Stop Striving.

By embracing these principles and forging your own path with determination and resilience, you can not only succeed but also pave the way for future generations of women in family businesses.

Despina Voudouris: The rewards are so worth it, but you need to be mindful that so are the challenges. It’s through coming out the other end of the challenges that you grow. Believe in yourself and surround yourself with people that make you grow. Long story short – my advice is JUST DO IT. I wished I had joined the family business 20 odd years ago. Take a leap of faith and the world is your oyster.