Woman Need Role Models Who Are Women? Of Course!

It seems a self evident truth that requires no explanation: It helps to have role models in your chosen field, and it helps if those role models are a bit like you. We’ve known that about ethnicity for ages yet somehow the gender question has not received so much attention, until relatively recently.

Dr Black at podiumThere are several inspiring women and men out there trying hard to combat the very negative, demeaning images of womanhood promoted in the media, as well as women like Dr Sue Black or Clare Bottle trying to encourage more girls into the traditionally male dominated careers. More power to their collective elbows.

But there is really nothing as effective as having some great role models to inspire and enthuse you. If you’re a woman they are hard to find.

The CMI (Chartered Management Institute) conducted a poll which revealed that most people who inspire are either dead, approaching retirement, and almost exclusively male. Nelson Mandela and Virgin boss Richard Branson topped the list of inspirational figures, followed by businessmen Steve Jobs and John Harvey-Jones.

The institute said a role model “revolution” was needed after its study found that women were less likely than men to aspire to top jobs. Oh yes, bring on the revolution, some of us have been trying for years!

Twice as many men as women were aiming for a chief executive post, which the report suggested could be because of “outdated stereotypes”.

Ann Francke, chief executive of the CMI, said:

“It’s time to redefine and rejuvenate what we think of as an inspiring person.

Without accessible, inspiring women highlighted in the public eye, it’s no surprise we’re lacking a pipeline of talented women aiming for top jobs. Women are opting not to go for these roles because they’re put off by business cultures, and wider social attitudes, that are still predominantly geared to making men successful but alienate women.

If men in our workplaces are inherently biased towards taking their lead from the men in their lives rather than the women, it’s unlikely they’re championing and nurturing their female and male employees equally.”

Minister for Women and Equalities Jenny Willott said:

“We know there are exceptional women out there whose achievements and approach to life could help guide other women to realise their full potential.

We should be encouraging more women to become role models by sharing lessons about how they got where they are and how other women can succeed in the workplace. We want more inclusive workplaces where women are encouraged and supported to achieve the very best they can – this work is crucial if we are to build a stronger economy and a fairer society.”

The research, published ahead International Women’s Day 2014, showed that only half of those polled could identify a good role model in their organisation. To be honest, I’m surprised it’s as high as that.

Organisations and businesses need a strategy for encouraging more women into senior positions if they are to keep up in the 21st century. It’s not enough to say ‘we welcome women’ if all they are doing is trying to fit them into a mould that suit men well.  Avivah Wittenberg-Cox is CEO of one of the world’s leading gender consultancy agencies and this is what she said when I asked her some time ago:

What do you think are the biggest obstacles facing women in the workforce today?
I think the issue of gender being seen as a women’s issue. The corporate culture, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world, sees the problems as being a woman’s responsibility; and worse – women often see it as women’s problems too!

A tick box mentality can result in organisations where women organise themselves into women’s groups, men support them but don’t get involved, and everyone feels comfortable. But absolutely nothing changes! I’d say don’t create women’s networks! There has to be a fundamental rethink at the top executive level.

She is so right. Many years ago I would have advocated women’s groups and ‘conscious raising ‘as a way forward. Now, while I think it is important for women to have places where they can talk about issues specifically relating to them, I think we’re too easily dismissed if we don’t make it a corporate target that everyone gets involved in. Role models are only part of the answer; we’ve got to make jobs accessibly to women and we need to boost their confidence in their abilities and encourage them to apply for those top jobs.

True gender equality improves the working lives of everyone, and, perhaps more of an inducement to the bosses, improves the bottom line, profit. And it’s just plain right.

So, on International Women’s day and every day, stand tall, stand proud, do it your way, and be true to yourself!

jane_weaver-with-awardThinking of making some significant and positive changes to your life? Check out the RenewYou days happening across the UK. Click here for more information. RenewYou is a one day course written by me, delivered by women, for women everywhere. It’s designed to give a real confidence boost to women in all areas of their life. Check out this story from Jane Weaver. RenewYou didn’t make Jane excellent at what she does, (she was that already) but it did give her the confidence to go for, and win, a national award!

Photo Credits: Jane via Everywoman, Sue via her website


Posted on March 7th, 2014 by

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