The Power of Role Models

We see it in 99% of the parent coaching and career workshops we run.  We observe it in most one-to-one coaching sessions.  We hear it from friends and colleagues.  Men and women who are returning from parental leave (in contrast perhaps to some manager assumptions); feel driven and enthusiastic to contribute, make a difference, achieve and perform.

Several months back into the daily grind and logistical battle, however, reality sets in.  Personal drive and enthusiasm do not seem to be embraced and doors that used to be wide open may seem to be firmly shut; at best only slightly ajar.

The problem is that once we’ve battled through the initial re-integration, we begin to question our longer-term plans and aspirations; ‘where do I fit now?’; ‘how long can I keep up working a 40-hour week when I’m officially on a 4-day a week flexible working contract?’  We naturally begin to look around for others who are hopefully paving the way and making a success of progressing at work whilst still actively parenting at home.  If we don’t see anyone, we begin to start asking why and lose our faith in our role in the future of the business.

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has published a paper called ‘Women in Business – The Power of Role Models’.  Here are our top 3 takeaways:

  1. Ann Francke’s introduction states that there are 2 different types of role models: ‘the so-called idols whose names are written large across the night sky…and the accessible ones who can teach us how to do things and instil a belief that we too can achieve great things’.  Yes!  And why not have more than 2 role models?  Why not look at role-modelling behaviours of different and perhaps several individuals?  We might like to role-model our mother’s determination to succeed with our manager’s ability to communicate; our partner’s relentless attention to detail with our best friend’s positive outlook.
  2. If we don’t find any role models at work – could we become one ourselves?  Younger, more inexperienced team members will be observing us as we transition and manage the new role of becoming a parent at work – and it may influence their decision whether or not to start their own families whilst working in this team or in this organisation.  Many people don’t feel ‘successful’ or ‘special’ enough to be seen as a role model, however the CMI’s research revealed that 72% of men and women think that the most important attribute of a role model is ‘their ability to inspire’.
  3. The role of men is important:  successful, senior male managers have a fantastic opportunity to seek out, support and develop female role models.  James Bardrick, Country Office for Citi urges all managers to redress the lack of female talent: ‘hire more, retain more, develop more, lose less’.

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