Women Discuss the Challenges They Face in Family Businesses

Four women spoke with passion, intelligence and plenty of humor Thursday to a lunchtime audience about the challenges and successes they encounter as leaders in their family businesses.
Photo: David Croxford

Kalei Cadinha-Pua‘a, CEO and vice chair of Cadinha & Co. LLC, a Honolulu-based investment advice firm, talked about how valuable women can be to their families’ businesses. “If you just change your perspective subtly, you see the tremendous opportunity that women have in any organization including their family business. We nurture, we build, we collaborate, we do all these amazing things” that are necessary to a grow a successful business, she said.

The discussion at Hawaii Business Magazine’s annual Family Business Forum accompanied the release of a survey conducted in Hawai‘i and California called WLife: Women Leaders in Family Enterprises. The survey participants included women of all ages, ethnicities and education levels, and with varying years of experience in their families’ businesses.

Photo: David Croxford

Jean Santos, senior consultant and partner at Business Consulting Resources, the local company that conducted the survey, said the reality is “the business world for family-owned entities is still a man’s world.” But she also said, “The best organizations are balanced ones with men and women on the team and in leadership positions.”

Santos presented highlights of the survey, which will sound familiar to women leaders in any business environment, but with the added complexity that these women work with their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and other relatives. Among the findings were that women leaders in family businesses:

    • Navigate a challenging web of conscious and unconscious biases at work, and struggle to be taken seriously by their own relatives.
    • Are frequently passed over for leadership positions because of their gender and often unable to make business decisions without permission.
    • Have developed “imposter syndrome” because of their negative experiences. That means they felt the need to be “overqualified” with additional degrees and outside work experience – far beyond what most men feel is necessary to take on similar roles.
    • Often face the evaluation that “she is in the job because she is his wife, daughter, sister, not because of her qualifications and experience” – an evaluation not faced by their brothers or other male relatives in the same circumstances.
    • Are sometimes still called “Daddy’s Little Girl” or something similar even though they are mature and accomplished adults.

Justin Levinson, a professor of law at UH’s Richardson School of Law and an expert in unconscious bias, was also on the panel. He said the business community in Hawai‘i can create lasting change.

From left: Steve Petranik, Kaleo Schneider, LiAnne Driessen, Dana Takushi, Cheryl Oncea, Jean Santos, Kaleialoha Cadinha-Pua‘a, Justin Levinson | Photo: David Croxford

“We actually have a unique opportunity to think about what we can do with regards to gender and corporate success that can be a model for other places.”

The other panelists included Kaleo Schneider, who leads a family business that includes Buzz’s Original Steak House in Lanikai, and LiAnne Driessen, director of sales and marketing at Trilogy Excursions on Maui and a second-generation member of the family that owns the business.

Driessen suggested re-examining the paths available to women in family businesses. She asked: Are there female executives in your C-Suite and are there policies in place to support them? If not, make that happen.

Categories: Event Recap, Family Business Forum