Composite Role Models


Working with a senior female executive from a large organisation recently, I was surprised at how shocked she was to learn that junior female members of her team did not view her as a role model. ‘I’m one of very few who have made it to the top – how can I not be a role model?’ she asked me. Of course we have no choice who views us as role models (or not) and whether they view us as a positive or negative one!

One lady I was working with decided to leave her organisation because, whilst she recognised she had a responsibility as a role model, she fundamentally disagreed with the misalignment of the corporate message about supporting women to the top. In reality bias in the boardroom compromised her principles. This is not an uncommon story of large organisations putting senior women on pedestals and ‘wheeling them out’ at every occasion for diversity purposes. Yet junior women can’t see role models in their organisation. I often hear this explained by a perceived lack of relevance when it comes to the circumstances of potential role models – having a stay at home partner, not having a family or operating in a style that compromises their femininity and authenticity. If a young female member of staff looks up, they want to see how someone might be able to be the best in their field and juggle their career with family even if their partner is working an equally demanding path. So senior executives need to be the best role model they can be for the success of the future organisation.

When working with female executives, I often talk to them about building their own ‘composite role model’. i.e. piecing a virtual person together from aspects of senior executives they know to role model the various aspects they hold as important; technical capability, negotiation skills, relationship building, work life balance etc. It is highly unlikely they are going to find all that they aspire to be, combined with their style and background circumstance rolled into one. As such, this can be a mixture of people of different genders, organisations, levels etc.

At AGM Transitions, we subscribe to the principles of positive psychology when working with our senior executive clients, focusing them on playing to their strengths. We also help them to strategically think about their stakeholders and clarity of message. So the questions for today are:

  • What would you like people to look up to you for?

  • What trait do you particularly want to role model?

  • What would those who perceive you as a role model consider you for?

  • How do you help them to more clearly understand what you do that makes you successful in that aspect?

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