By Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo, Contributor
Sept. 11, 2023
As a female founder, it’s no secret that you’re less likely to get the institutional support male founders so often receive. In fact, less than 3% of venture capital funds went to female-founded startups in 2020. Female founders have also been found to be 63% less likely than their male counterparts to obtain financing.
Without this institutional support, women are much more likely to turn to family members for help launching their businesses. A study published in Nature found that female entrepreneurs often use family for moral, psychological, and financial support. In some cases, family involvement was even necessary to get a bank loan to start their business.
Brynn Steimle, a non-fiction book editor married to an author and book coach, said, “Working with my husband has been great! Our skill sets perfectly complement each other — his insights as an author allow him to provide great feedback on my editing work when I need it. And I can provide him with the editing services he and his clients need. Being able to connect professionally has strengthened our relationship.”
While family can provide undeniable support to female founders, the dynamics can quickly shift once you work together. It is key to understand how to work with family members without damaging relationships or the business itself.
1. Set Clear Expectations
As with hiring a typical employee, setting clear expectations during the hiring phase is critical. However, this can be even more important when working with family members. This doesn’t just mean they should be provided with a detailed job description outlining their responsibilities. When hiring family members, you must make additional expectations for workplace behavior clear from the start. For example, this could include things specific to maintaining a professional atmosphere in the workplace — like not calling your mother “mom” while at work .
You should also ensure that a family member is actually qualified for the job you are hiring them for. Hiring someone just because they are a family member can hurt your business if you’re not careful. Setting clear expectations will help maintain a professional atmosphere at your company.
These expectations should also cover the possibility of what happens if the working relationship doesn’t work out. Having a plan for what you’ll do if you no longer need a family member’s services (or even need to fire them) will make it easier to take such steps in a way that doesn’t hurt your personal relationships.
2. Separate Business and Family Matters
During the pandemic, many employees struggled to maintain a strong work-life balance that allowed them to separate work from family. The same often occurs when you hire family members to work for your business.
Maekaeda Gibbons, founder of Brown Sugar Babe , who works with her mother and four siblings at her company, knows exactly what working with family members is like. She explains, “I love working with my family, and we all get along great. Even with that, however, we have to be careful to keep work at work and keep family stuff at home. We need to have those boundaries in place at all times. Otherwise, it creates a strange blend where neither work nor family would get the full attention they deserve. We only talk about work at work and family stuff when we’re away from work. This helps keep the business — and our relationships — on track.”
Setting these expectations and boundaries when you first hire a family member will be important in helping everyone hold each other accountable to these practices.
3. Don’t Play Favorites
Another common pitfall of working with family members is when a founder plays favorites. This can be especially problematic in organizations that hire both family and non-family members.
Workplace favoritism can create division and resentment within the workforce, lowering morale, motivation, self-esteem, and job performance. Left unchecked, it can lead to high turnover as “unfavored” employees leave the company. Such behavior can ultimately hurt your company image and make attracting and retaining other quality employees harder. This can also pull workplace diversity, locking your business from new ideas and perspectives.
Favoritism can influence everything from pay scale and general communication to opportunities for promotion. Family members should be treated like any other employee, with decisions such as pay and hiring based on experience and merit — no other factors.
4. Enjoy Each Other’s Company Outside of Work
If your family only ever sees each other at work, this can ultimately prevent you from engaging in the activities and experiences that made you feel like a family in the first place. Regular exercises like trying new games, going on weekly walks, finding ways to laugh together, or participating in family traditions can help put aside the stress (and contention) that can build up in the workplace.
Andrea and Dan Kotter are the duo behind The Wheelchair Dad, a set of social media channels with approximately a million followers across all channels combined, and collaborations with companies like The Home Depot.
“I have six kids, so my family is my primary work,” said Andrea. “But our family’s life has also become our day jobs as we’ve grown our YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok platforms.” Andrea and Dan build some space into each day so their work on social media doesn’t consume their entire lives. “We’ve learned to put our phones down and ensure we enjoy each other and our kids outside of our social media content creation.” Andrea continues, “With the nature of our work, it’s necessary for me as a wife and mom to ensure our kids never feel like they are living for our social media content. Instead, we prioritize our private family time and only pull out the camera for small moments here and there.”
By making time to experience your family members in a setting away from work routines and responsibilities, you’ll have an easier time reminding yourself why you wanted to work together in the first place. You can de-stress and refocus on why you value these relationships to feel more motivated to give your best effort when you all return to the office.
Working With Family Successfully
Working with family members can offer some surprising advantages and a fair share of unique challenges. By establishing clear boundaries for how you work together and following through in how you run your company, you can ensure the best possible outcomes for your business without sacrificing those essential relationships.
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