We all need examples to look up to — mentors we can trust and emulate; role models we can observe and learn from; confidantes and colleagues with whom we can float the germ of an idea and develop it.
There are times and environments when we are especially in need of inspiring figures of our own race, age, gender, or sexual orientation. And there are other forms of bias, as we all know, that set us apart when all we want is to be part of the team. To have a fair shot.
My thanks to 3 Plus International, a global coaching and mentoring consultancy providing programs for High Potential Women, for calling my attention to an article in The Guardian, in which the title really says it all: the perfect role model doesn’t exist – we need visibility and cultural change.
This distinction between role models and a visible presence is an important one.
A role model can inspire, yes. But what about “everyday” motivation that could come from seeing other women in the ranks at all levels? What of the pressure on a single high-level female to somehow fulfill the aspirational-motivational role on her own, while still doing her job?
And to The Guardian’s point: Each individual in management is different; expectations that our role models will be perfect in our eyes, however that is defined, are unrealistic.
The Guardian elaborates:
… what makes a role model is largely subjective. Most female employees are more inspired by realistic, relatable and attainable traits – not just seniority. When women are asked to describe their ideal role model, they often reveal a wide variety of sought-after characteristics, traits and behaviours. From being decisive, intelligent and confident to warm, approachable and inclusive, what makes an ideal role model is often personal and might change over time.
So we must work instead to normalise gender-balanced leadership, shifting away from the preoccupation with role models. …
When we are severely underrepresented in the managerial ranks, or for that matter, in the organization as a whole — whether “we” are people of color, or women, or workers with silver hair and lined foreheads — “we” lose, society loses, the organization loses.
The message isn’t new and it’s a simple one: With diversity comes a richness of experience that can be invaluable.
The Guardian continues:
… The visibility of women at the top demonstrates to other women that it is possible for them to get there too…
Having said this… it is important to recognise that role models and visibility are not one and the same. Role models tend to be more personal, while visibility has a more widespread effect when it comes to changing working culture.
Normalizing gender-balanced leadership. That sounds good to me.
Let’s also remember all the other skills other than leadership that we gain in organizations, where diversity would better prepare us: negotiating, building coalitions, basic communications.
- What does this mean for you, given where you are in your life and your career?
- How important is a role model if you’re getting back into the game after a long absence, shifting directions, or starting over in a new field?
- Where do you find your role models? What do you expect of them?
- Would you be better served by having more people around of your ethnic background, your age, your gender, your sexual orientation?
The Guardian article is worth reading, and I recommend you stop by and check it out.
On a day when many of us are recalling another example of leadership and inspiration, shouldn’t we be thinking about all the ways we can “normalize” the workplace?
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