By Ben Simmons

Family firms are still leading the way in the appointment of women to senior positions compared to non-family businesses.

In a survey of more than 1 million unlisted firms, conducted on behalf of the Institute for Family Business (IFB) jointly by the University of Leeds and the University of Nottingham in March 2011, family firms were found to have a greater total percentage of women directors (44%) than non-family firms (32%).

The figures for women directors in family businesses also compare well with the FTSE 100 where numbers of women on boards have now reached 15.6%- up from 12% a year ago.

Last year’s Davies Report, the government inquiry into women in the boardroom, has recommended that FTSE 100 companies aim for a least 25% of their boards to be made up of women by 2015. Of the family firms analysed in the survey three-quarters (76%) had more than 25% female board directors.

The proportion of women directors is highest in small family firms (44%) compared to non-family small firms (34%), the figure is slightly lower in large family businesses (36%), but is more than double the figure found in large non-family firms (17%).

“UK business has to improve its record of creating opportunities for all to pursue careers at senior levels, and we are pleased to see the family business sector leading the way,” says IFB Director General, Grant Gordon.

With succession planning as one of their key challenges, family firms recognise that the abilities of family members need to be recognised regardless of gender with women family members gaining the same access to mentoring and business training as their male counterparts.

Carrie Rubin, a director of the Pentland Group plc and Chair of the IFB Women’s Forum, said: “I believe the opportunities for career progress are greater for women in family businesses. The ethos of family firms often means that there is a greater appreciation of the talents and abilities of the workforce irrespective of gender.”

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