We need more female role models, says CMI

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The main people who currently inspire British workers are either dead or approaching retirement, from foreign shores and almost exclusively male according to a new study into role models launched today. The research, conducted with 1,700 workers by CMI (Chartered Management Institute) has prompted calls for a new generation of younger, home-grown and female role models to be highlighted in an effort to encourage and inspire women to aim for leadership roles.

Nelson Mandela and Richard Branson topped the list of inspirational figures in the public eye, which also features Steve Jobs, John Harvey-Jones, and Tony Blair. Margaret Thatcher and Mother Teresa were the only women named within the top 10 role models.

Ahead of International Women’s Day tomorrow, new CMI research on ‘The Power of Role Models’ shows women are still much less likely than men to aspire to top jobs. Twice as many men as women are aiming for CEO posts in the immediate future (7.1% compared to 4.0% aspire to be chief executive in two years’ time) and, looking ahead to 2025, just a quarter of women want to be in board-level positions, compared to over a third of men (38%).

CMI’s study suggests outdated, patriarchal stereotypes still held by some men may be in part to blame. Women polled were 22% more likely to disagree that males make better role models than females while men were 8% more likely to think being physically attractive is an important trait for a role model to have. When it comes to their careers, men are three times as likely to be influenced by their dads as their mums (13% compared to 5%), while women look equally to both parents (12% to mums and 10% to dads).

Ann Francke, Chief Executive of CMI, said: “We need a role model revolution. It’s time to redefine and rejuvenate what we think of as an inspiring person. While many of those named in the top 10 have achieved amazing things in their lifetimes, they aren’t necessarily relevant role models who can inspire workers on a practical level in their everyday lives. Shouldn’t we be looking to today’s business leaders like Charlie Mayfield and Richard Reed over John Harvey-Jones? And where are female role models such as Karren Brady and Carolyn McCall?

“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.”

Francke is also a board member of the Women of Influence initiative which supports female scientists. She adds: “The lack of role models is a critical issue in so many sectors. Along with several other leading businesswomen, I’m pleased to be involved in a great programme to support and mentor female scientists to help them reach leading positions in their careers, part of Cancer Research UK’s Women of Influence initiative. It would be fantastic to see schemes like this equipping more women to achieve their potential in other industries.”

Minister for Women and Equalities Jenny Willott MP, said: “The results of CMI’s survey shine a spotlight on the lack of female role models.  Yet 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.”

Looking beyond role models in the public eye, the study reveals a lack of inspiring leaders in our workplaces too, with just a third of people (34%) saying their line manager sets a good example and barely half (56%) being able to identify a good role model in their wider organisation.

Ann continues: “We know that good line management is key to engaging employees and improving business performance. If just one in three people think their boss is a good role model, then UK businesses will struggle to make the most of opportunities created by the improving economy – and will fail to inspire talented employees to aspire to senior roles.”

The outcomes of the event will be published in a CMI White Paper in April. CMI is inviting people to contribute further inspirational examples of modern role models to [email protected] for inclusion in the White Paper. Visit www.managers.org.uk/role-models for more information or join the debate at #IWDrolemodels

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  1. Diversity/Inclusion – the link with Innovation & Growth

    What makes each of us unique as human beings is that we are more than one-dimensional. Sadly, there continues to be a tendency by even the well intentioned to unconsciously treat each strand of diversity in isolation, thereby missing the point. Those who attempt to speak in favour of valuing diversity for business sustainability can unintentionally treat the more uncomfortable issue of racial diversity as the poor relation to gender. This was my observation at the CMI event hosted at Citi Group, Canary Wharf yesterday, 6th March 2014: ‘The Power of Role Models – a need for inspiring women’.

    Out of a line of ten engaging speakers (nine women, one male) who generously shared their personal stories of who had inspired them, not a single one was from an Asian or Black heritage (or visibly representative of any other equality strand). This was even more striking given we were all sat in the UK’s multi-cultural capital and a stone’s throw away from the site of the Olympics in Newham – the spirit and hope of an enduring legacy this represents. No one seemed to have noticed the blindingly obvious or felt too uncomfortable to raise it publicly. What we notice and what we don’t is what diversity is all about. Speaking out and then taking positive action to change the status quo can then seem more attainable if we unite as allies publicly (my thanks to those who applauded my question and observations)

    None of the speakers were able to respond to my question as to how the homogenous line up had come about. It is not enough to ‘blame’ ethnic minorities for ‘not coming forward’ for public or other appointments when there is strong evidence that decision makers have a tendency to gravitate unconsciously towards ‘like-minded’ mirror images of themselves and hence this influences who gets ‘the tap on the shoulder’ and who accepts the tap unquestioningly; who is on one’s ‘radar’ or social network; who is championed, coached, given developmental feedback – versus silently side-stepped so they never reach their true potential; who is suggested as suitable for promotion, involvement in a key project, training, given access to flexible working, etc. Our day to day decisions are far less rational than we like to believe. They are the result of subjective perceptions hard-wired into our unconscious minds as a result of our cultural experiences – the accumulation of tiny daily micro and macro affirmations that shape how we see ourselves and how we therefore see others (or not even notice them).

    Most people would agree that ‘success breeds success’ and the importance of having relevant role models that are meaningful to each of us gives us the confidence to put ourselves forward for unknown situations and challenges. Such ‘risky’ situations could provide opportunities to show our talent and make a valuable contribution to what might seem like an insurmountable problem and left on the ‘too difficult’ pile. At worst if we fail, we can still ‘win’ by gaining valuable learning so we develop the resilience to try again with encouragement until we triumph. It’s about decision makers and individuals meeting in the middle, but the greater onus are on the decision makers at all levels due to the balance of power and control over real structural and cultural barriers.

    The issues I have highlighted have wider implications if we are genuinely to close the gap between rhetoric and reality despite nearly forty years of Equality legislation, learn the lessons from the Stephen Lawrence enquiry twenty years on and capitalise on the emerging developments in neuroscience There is a need not only for decision makers but also the recipients of ‘favourable treatment’ to be curious about how decisions are made about them; who is ‘talented’ and considered ‘successful’; defined by whom and ask why they were chosen as part of a homogenous line up or why their profession/sector or organisation is the profile that it is. This would allow us to re-address any imbalance through the re-design of policies, practices and decision making processes as well as well as widen the pool of decision makers and informal influencers.

    In the absence of the main stream establishment recognising ethnic minorities as role models ethnic minority communities are increasingly taking control of defining and celebrating their own role models across a broad range of fields: business, professions, sports, music, etc. Whilst this empowerment should be celebrated, ultimately, this simply duplicates homogeneity of another kind within the ethnic minority groupings and is not good for community cohesion and our ability to evolve in response to changing world events. It limits cross-fertilisation of ideas and ways of behaving in an increasingly unpredictable world when research shows creativity and new ways of thinking and working are best achieved by diverse people who come together as teams to create sustainable communities that accept it is possible to get win/win outcomes.

    Same people naturally fear they will lose out under increasing equality when in fact they too are already losing out under the system of inequality. Inequality breeds distrust and distrust is contrary to taking risks and collaborating – all counter-intuitive to innovation and growth. The main stream population misses out on positive reinforcement via real-life, everyday examples of ethnic minorities making a contribution to UK economy and culture and this creates a vacuum for the anti-foreign/’not like me’ brigade to fill. We are therefore less likely to have empathy for such people’s difficulties, leading to alienation making discretionary effort less likely.

    I am hopeful after my intervention that Anne Francke, CMI CEO, the panel and the audience will take on board the need to be curious about challenging the status quo of our decision making processes – individually and collectively. I look forward to others sharing their reflections, hopes and dreams to support International Women’s Day on 8th March 2014.

    Safia Boot – Founder Respect at Work Limited

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