Interview with Dr. Leila Bouamatou, Mauritania
The challenges of succession in a family-owned are as numerous as they are complex. From bridging the to walking the line between innovating and honouring tradition, succession is never simple even at the best of times.
What it is like for women in to deal with all that in a where it is often frowned upon for women to show drive and ambition deserves separate consideration. All too often, -minded women are put in the impossible situation of having to choose between a or a even if it’s a matter of choosing to join their own family’s .
Dr. Leila Bouamatou is a next-generation family member from Mauritania who has set out to study and better understand the challenges African women face when seeking to take over a . Her recently published academic paper A Qualitative Investigation Of Female Succession In Francophone was part of her DBA studies in at Temple University in the .
Leila spoke to about her and the future for female successors in .
What is the driving force behind your interest in this topic?
There were many factors that triggered my interest in the topic of women empowerment in general. Most African women are underrepresented socially, politically, and more importantly, economically. It’s hard to imagine how a continent can attempt to compete in such a fierce global competitive environment without the important asset that women represent. A second reason is the importance of family businesses in the African economy. Unfortunately, the majority of African family-owned when the retires or dies. The long-term success rate in many African countries is less than the global average with only three percent surviving the third . This rarely involves female succession to a leadership role and reflects a very low level of gender egalitarianism. This exclusion has a negative impact on the and longevity of family because very talented and very qualified women are being shut out of the process.
What mostly prompted me to undertake this is that I come from a , where many of us are involved in the family . The reason I decided to focus on Francophone is that my home nation of Mauritania is composed of and Africans. I thought that the Francophone region could be used as an umbrella to study both.
You spoke to a group of women who were facing this female succession dilemma in . What were the commonalities?
When I first conducted my , it was pretty hard. Because it’s a completely different knocking on doors, trying to establish contact with these women. It can be quite intimidating to talk about your personal life, your , the challenges you are facing within your family . It’s really delicate, especially in .
As for the commonalities amongst the women who did take over their family , the first was that most of them were the oldest child and they all succeeded their as the head of the family . In most of the cases, the succession was complete while there were some cases where the succession was still in progress. Their ranged between 3 and 22 years and their represented a variety of .
What were some of the common barriers these peers faced?
The first group of women that I interviewed reported a mix of family impediments to their . Some experienced from their which was very surprising to me as a woman. But often believe that of the should fall to the male successor. This often due to the ’ lack of education and the continued stigma that only men can lead the . Others found from and other family members, such as uncles or cousins. In , when it comes to family , a lot of family members are involved.
We found other types of impediments were commonplace in the form of institutional and gender barriers to the success of women. In the African tradition, society creates an institutionalised expectation that women should only support their children or husbands, rather than go into . And due in part to this expectation, it’s pretty rare to see women in leadership positions. That has implications for their own which was the case for some women that I interviewed. Many had to sacrifice, their whole lives, including their marital lives to pursue their .
The most striking institutional factor is the name taking convention where in some cases, women were asked to give up their husband’s name before working in the family . They cannot be leading the family legacy and carry the name of another . It just isn’t acceptable in their society.
What are the realities female face in joining their family in African countries?
Despite the growing level of education amongst African women in the last decades and the fact that they are perceived by the and legally considered as equal to men, their reality is still shaped by their historical context understood in terms of African cultural traditions.
is still considered as a domain reserved exclusively to men. Also most family affairs and important decisions are reserved to men. The African conventional norms and social expectations are not in favor of women in .
Now many talented African women are excluded from the of their family because of African norms and traditions and in addition to that some women are excluded because they lack interest or confidence. Others live in the shadow of their or husbands or think that being successful in means giving up their femininity and having to act like a man. Some women also think that men prefer women who can be managed and controlled.
To be clear I think African women still have a lot to do and a long way to go in their battle for in family . They have to dream and persevere as well as be ready to make sacrifices and apply emotional intelligence to these difficult situations.
In the cases of your respondents, have their championed the causes of their daughters?
In many cases where women were going through a -daughter , one of the most important factors present was the strong support of a modern thinking . Having a good and a trusting with their was crucial because, without it, it would appear nothing could be done.
There are some other factors that are really important for those women for them to succeed and to survive in this . First, they all strongly believe that women, now more than ever before, have the opportunity to aspire, and occupy leadership positions within their family businesses. Secondly, education is an important factor. Most of the respondents, they were all very well educated. Many had at least three degrees. Also most could speak at least two to three languages. Thirdly, those who were successful displayed individual traits such as determination, ambition, emotional strength and adaptability. And what I mean by adaptability is the ability to stand up for individual rights, while still being open to compromise. When you have a husband that does not like to see you succeed or insists on all these concessions, it’s very difficult. As a fourth point, they all spoke about the fact that there is a great need to have more female as role models to encourage other women in . So, we need to be and to develop more solidarity between women.
It’s true that the female succession in a family is affected by the social context and African norms and traditions. But, now they have the freedom and the social obligation to contribute to the of their own , and to better shape the and of African girls. And in a way, redefine the African norms and social expectations.
You spoke about the importance of progressive in this social transformation. Is there any sign that husbands are following suit?
As far as the husbands are concerned, he can either be a constraint or an enabler for his wife’s within family in . From the women that I interviewed, there are cases men were very supportive of their wives. While in other cases, the led to divorces and even family divisions. Some African men do not accept the name taking as I mentioned earlier. There are cases where a husband did not accept the of having a successful wife, and preferred one that would stay at home, take care of children, and remain completely under their authority. There are other cases where some ambitious women aspiring to leadership positions within their family chose not to get married as a sacrifice.
How can an ecosystem in francophone be created that is increasingly supportive of female successors?
I think the first thing is to show that women are improving the financial situation of the . Proving that we can add will go a long way to help foster acceptance. Because for us to succeed, we have to make sure that the family can survive to the next .
The second point is to try to keep the unified. We have seen that is one of the most important impediments or challenges that family constantly face. And this means finding a balance between the family and our personal lives. Because as women, we have to take care of our lives, we have to take care of our husbands and our children. And to ensure that does not discriminate against girls and young women .
Has the of doing this impacted your own perspective of your family ?
Definitely. I a lot about myself through exploring this topic. What I discovered is that it’s a subject that I want to further and teach. I feel a strong pull to teaching not only the subject of family but emotional intelligence when it comes to family . And women leadership in family as well. Partly because this will allow me to grow our family and partly out of a sense of civic responsibility. I am very optimistic that when it comes to female that are involved in the African family , we’ll find a way to it further. Because is changing, and so is the . Women are getting more and more educated and becoming more and more ambitious. are more and more supportive of their daughters and more open minded, compared to previous .
I believe that the current of young African women has a great responsibility to encourage women and girls to consider . Especially, within the field of family . I consider my of young female as a transition between the previous era where we were relatively scarce and the of successful women in . We are in good shape. We can do it.