Why are role models so important to women?

Why are role models so important to women?


Hillary and the women rowers

I am really excited about Hillary Clinton running in the presidential race for the White House and the fact that last weekend, for the first time, women participated in the Oxford and Cambridge boat race. I know if you look more closely, there may be question marks about what Hillary stands for and women competing for Oxford and Cambridge isn’t new. The fact that they are being taken seriously on the same level of funding as the men sends a powerful message.

What it's like being a woman

Women need that message. When you think about it, it’s not really surprising that we are inclined to question ourselves, especially in Britain. Unlike boys, we are constantly told to be careful, come straight home, don’t take risks. We are discouraged from continuing to play team games which, with constant appraisal of our team contribution, would teach us to be more robust in our self assessment. Even in the language. negative behaviour is often dismissed in female terms; being a sissy, being hormonal, being too touchy feely! The brain washing is so wall to wall that for many women, unless they’ve had very positive reinforcement whilst they are growing up, this tentative way of behaving, especially in the work place, seems normal. 

New possibilities

Role models give us an alternative possibility that counters everyday cultural pressure. Vanessa Vallely of We are the City tells how she was born in a poor area of London in sight of Canary Wharf and how she swore as a child, despite disparaging reactions, that one day she was going to work there. She did! An inspiring story can help us capture our moments of expansiveness and turn them into intention. If she can do it we can! 

"Getting" who you are

But this isn’t only true of children. Adults too can have transformative experiences,  which in an instant, have them see that something is possible that they didn't previously believe. An example is a woman I was working with suddenly making the link between who she knew herself to be and what that person was really capable of. Her self description was “An understated but determined human gaining contentment through working together, appreciating context and doing a good job”. When we looked for where the energy was in that statement we came up with a shorter version - a stealth bomber! She had never thought of herself in that way before and suddenly she was set! She recognised that it wouldn’t be wise for anyone to under estimate her or get in her way!

This transformation of the way she saw herself, set a new intention and every conversation we had after that generated a far more committed outcome. After all being a stealth bomber was something she couldn’t help being! Many times the only thing that is missing is alignment with who you are and why you are here. If we are in touch with that one way or another we will find ways of making something happen!

Women in organisations

At the lower levels of the organisation our desire to be accepted, do well and be a “good girl” keeps us heads down and delivering. However, as suggested in the well known book title Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois Frankel, if we are going to take on an executive role, we need to have a significant mind shift. We must take on our own authentic way of being that puts us on a equal footing with our male colleagues in making our contribution to the end goal, together. The organisation deserves that and so do we!

It would be so much better if there was genuine recognition at the top of organisations of the cost to both men and women of not acknowledging and leveraging the different qualities women bring. In the absence of this the efforts of individual women connecting with what is most important to them and showing others what is possible, as Hillary’s announcement and the women rowers have done, has a vital impact. 

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