3 questions to Fabian Bernhard on gender and family businesses
As part of the 2023 International Women's Day, we have interviewed Fabian Bernhard, EDHEC Associate Professor and member of the Family Business Chair, on his latest research at the crossroad between gender, work and family businesses.
What was the motivation behind your article on flexible work arrangements in family businesses?
I have been researching and working with families in business for more than 15 years. During these years I have noticed that, for family members, working together in the business can be a curse and a blessing. While it can mean coping with family issues at work, it can also offer unique benefits, such as nepotistic privileges. For example, when you are in business with your close family members it can be easier to ask for a day of home office or some flexible schedule. So, together with my colleagues we were interested in the effects of this heightened degree of flexibility in family businesses compared to employees in regular (non-family) work environments.
In our research (1) we examined data from a large sociological dataset of more than 10.000 representative households. What we found was that family business owners work significantly longer hours than regular employees, but that working in one’s family business comes indeed with more work flexibility (2). Even in nonfamily companies where flexibility measures such as a home-working option exists, many regular employees shy away from using it. Perceived chances for advancement in one’s career, organizational culture and informal norms still center on being present in person and showing facetime in the office. Those who work for family do not worry too much about these issues and are often in a better position to enjoy flexibility.
Why is the gender angle interesting and what did you learn?
In France, as in many other countries, policymakers have pushed for change that can ease the integration of women into the workforce and embrace flexibility as an answer to gender inequalities. Likewise, numerous companies have adopted flexible working policies to help women manage professional with personal responsibilities. Despite these efforts, the desired consequences of more workplace flexibility have not appeared as expected. Many female employees fear the potential downside of the offered flexibility and do not make use of it.
However, our study shows that even in family businesses where the use of flexibility is more common, no differences show in how partners divide personal responsibilities, such as household tasks, compared to those working outside their family business. Traditional division of work (typically the male breadwinner model) persists even under flexibility. This is an important finding as it suggests that more work flexibility is not the final answer to gender inequality. Underlying cultural norms seem to trump work regulations. Politics and companies should be aware of it.
You also took a look in a recent chapter to other cultural aspects of gender inequalities, i.e, the effects of work culture on career advancement. Could you tell us more about it?
A recent graduate of the EDHEC Global MBA, who is American by origin and who considered taking on a job in Amsterdam, was interested in the differences of work culture between the US and the Netherlands. We conducted research on the different career prospects especially for women in these two countries. The key differences we found relate to work-life mentality, directness in communication styles, levels of collaboration, ways of decision-making, availability of part-time work, maternity and paternity leave, and how success is defined in the United States versus the Netherlands. Together we turned her research work into a book chapter which has been recently published (3). The findings may be insightful to any women who considers joining workforce in a country coined by Germanic or Anglo-Saxon work culture.
(1) Stamm, I., Bernhard, F., Hameister, N., & Miller, K. (2023). Lessons from Family Firms: The Use of Flexible Work Arrangements and its Consequences. Review of Managerial Science, 17, 175-208.
(2) EDHEX Vox, June 2022 - Work-Flexibility in Post-Covid Times: is working for your Family Business any better?
(3) Hoek, A. & Bernhard, F. (2022). The effects of work culture on women’s career advancement, exemplified by a comparison between the Netherlands and the United States. In Arora, A.S., Jentjens S., Arora, A.; Mintyre, J.R.; Sepehri, M. (eds.), Managing Social Robotics and Socio-Cultural Business Norms – Parallel Worlds of Emerging AI and Human Virtues (pp. 143-171). London: Palgrave Macmillan.