8 Key Strategies for Women Number 2 – Role Models

This is the second in my mini series following on from the work of Joanna Walvoort (see Eight Key Strategies for Women’s Advancement)

Four strategies stood out as being of particular significance in helping women advance their careers in Walvoort’s survey: networking, role models, confidence and knowledge of strengths. I looked at women’s networking in a previous post; today role models come under the spotlight!

What is a Role Model?

At my 50th birthday party my beautiful, sassy, intelligent and independent daughter stood up and called me her role model. Pride oozed from every pore. So, I am a role model! And you probably are too!

This is the definition from the American Heritage Dictionary:

A person who serves as an example of the values, attitudes, and behaviors associated with a role. For example, a father is a role model for his sons. Role models can also be persons who distinguish themselves in such a way that others admire and want to emulate them. For example, a woman who becomes a successful brain surgeon or airline pilot can be described as a role model for other women.

You’d better get looking for those succesful female brain surgeons and airline pilots! Presumably inadvertently, this definition also encapsulates the idea that women have to do everything better than men – the guy can be a role model to his son by being a good father; the women has to reach the (literally) dizzy heights of airline pilot or brain surgeon! Oh my!

A role model is someone who is doing what we’d like to do, or has skills and attributes we’d like to have, someone we can look up to. We don’t even have to know them as long as there is enough information in the public domain for us to know about them. Role models are important as we grow up, giving us an anchor amidst the uncertainty of burgeoning adulthood. (I’m not going to get sidetracked into a rant about unsuitable female role models here…) But role models for women are important as we move on in our careers too.

Choosing a Role Model

In the realm of work, having a figure who has many of the traits you aspire to can be motivating and encouraging. If there is no one in your workplace with whom you identify you are literally ploughing your own furrow or blazing a trail, or any other metaphor you can think of!

Which can be a problem for women moving into senior roles as there are too few women in senior roles… Seeing a woman on the board sends out a very powerful message to other women. Yay, someone has done it, it can be done! But this scarcity presents other problems too. Some early successful women could only get to these positions by adopting male behaviour traits; they had to be more like the men than the men were. That’s not my idea of a successful role model for women.

You may have to look outside of your industry for a good role model, or at least outside of your organisation. Think broadly. You may read about successful women, (incidentally, that is one of the reasons I have my Inspirational Women section on the site; I have a broad cross section of careers and backgrounds so you’re bound to find someone who inspires you!). Or perhaps social media will help. I have found Linkedin to be a brilliant resource for professional women, especially if you join groups with relevence to you.

Can a Man be a Role Model for a Woman?

Yes, of course! My first manager was someone whom I strove to emulate when I began managing staff; I loved his calm and approachable style and he was not macho at all. I suspect I even stroked my beard on occasion! (For purposes of clarity, he had a beard, I didn’t. But I have nothing against women with beards, fine by me.)

You need to be clear about what you are looking for in a role model. And there are men in the public eye whom I much admire who may have some of these traits. But as I began to develop in my management career I wanted to see women in the power stream.  I didn’t want to manage like a man. I wanted to be true to myself.

Questions for Finding A Role Model

Try answering the following questions:

  • How may senior women are there in my organisation? How many women above middle or second tier management.
  • How senior are they? In the top three? At the top of the organisation?
  • If not my organisation, which organisations in a similar field have senior women?
  • What are the qualities I admire in a senior manager/chief executive/ successful entrepreneur, etc?
  • How can I find out more these women? Through social media perhaps? Do I need to network more?
  • How can I turn those qualities into practical achievable steps for my career plan?
  • What difference would having a female role model make to me? (Walvoort’s research revealed women at an early stag eof their career felt they would greatly benefit from female role models).
  • What are my aspirations in this company? This profession?
  • What are the areas I need to develop within myself?
  • Who are my current female role models? Don’t limit yourself to business; one of my favourite women is Dolly Parton!

Role models can be a significant factor in helping you advance your career. In future posts I’ll be covering the remaining two – confidence and knowledge of strengths. Meantime, please let me know who has most inspired you to greatness!

Courses for Women

If you are seriously considering investing in your career you may be interested to know I have two courses for women running this autumn. Do take a look; one may be just right for you! RenewYou is in Bristol and Speak Up! is in beautiful Bath. Call me if you’d like to discuss how appropriate they might be for you! 01761 438749. Always happy to talk to women.


Posted on August 1st, 2011 by

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