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The number of women assuming leadership roles in family firms is on the rise, and it’s having a positive effect on both the community and the business world.

That was a core message of UBC Sauder’s 2017 Women of Impact seminar on February 6, which featured four panelists – all business leaders from family firms who shared their stories related to three themes: gender, values and societal impact.

“Traditionally, female roles in the family firm have been subtle, though integral,” said Vanessa Strike, UBC Sauder’s CIBC Professor in Applied Business Family Studies, who chaired the event. “But today, we’re seeing more women take an active role in the family firm, often at the helm.”

Approximately 22 per cent of family firms’ boards and top management are women – twice the average in commercial firms. Although that’s still low, a recent Ernst & Young report found that 70 per cent of family businesses are now considering a woman for their next CEO.

And when they do hire a female CEO, family firm profitability increases, according to a new study out of Italy. It’s an effect that grows proportionally to the number of women on the company’s board.

Panelist Raya Strauss Ben Dror shared her experience in one of the subtle roles that Strike said women so often have in family firms – Dror was once the “Chief Emotional Officer” of her family’s 80 year-old company, Strauss-Elite.

Dror’s daughter, Dr. Nava Michael-Tsabari, was also on the panel. She once worked for Strauss-Elite with her mother, though both women have since sold their shares in the company. She is now the founder and director of the Raya Strauss Centre for Family Business Research at Tel Aviv University. Together, mother and daugher discussed Strauss-Elite’s trek from “two cows to $2-billion U.S.,” and shared a unique inter-generational perspective on family firms and how values are passed down.

Also on the panel was Jessica Houssian of Women Moving Millions, a global philanthropic community of people committed to large-scale investment in women and girls; and Erin Klassen-Parkes, CFO of the Klassen Business Group and co-chair of the Klassen Foundation.

The Women of Impact seminar was hosted and presented by UBC Sauder’s Business Families Centre, which tailors some of its interactive education seminars exclusively for members of family enterprises.