How to Build your own Role Model in 4 Easy Steps
We all need someone to look up to. If you can’t find the right role model in your organisation, then it’s time to build your own.
Female role models are a rarity
In an ideal world so much would be different. Women would hold 50% of all leadership roles, housework and childcare would be equally shared and work and life would dance together in beautiful harmony. If you were a young female lawyer forging ahead in your career you’d have every reason to rejoice. All around you there’d be women just like you, only five to ten years on from where you are now. They’d be at the top of their career, deeply valued, greatly respected, and each one a poster-girl for the joys of having it all.
Unfortunately for female lawyers, the reality is quite different. Despite the record number of women recently promoted to partnership by magic circle firms this year, the upper echelons of the legal hierarchy remain depressingly void of female role models.
Absence of role models sends a bad message
The absence of female role models at the highest level of the profession is a major problem for law firms. However desperate they may be to improve their gender credentials, retain female talent and equalise the distribution of power, as long as there are no positive female role models – women who’ve made it to the top and have a family and are happy to be there – young talented female lawyers will continue to flee the profession in unsettling numbers. If there’s no one showing them it can be done, the message they are receiving is that it can’t.
That’s certainly the message I received. When I was three years qualified and considering my future (did I want to stay in the law and become a partner?) I was extremely conscious of the lack of role models ahead of me on the ladder. I looked at the few female partners of the time and asked myself: What kind of people are they? Are they respected and likeable? Do they have a family? Do they have a life? And if they do, are they happy? In short, do I want to end up like them?
Lack of role models is a barrier to success
I pegged my whole future on the answer to these questions. And the answer, almost overwhelmingly, was no. There was nobody who I envied or aspired to be, nobody who made a convincing enough case for embarking on the long hard road to partnership. And so I left.
My experience is backed up by research. Catalyst is a non-profit organization on a mission to create more inclusive workplaces and increase diversity. It’s research reveals that the lack of role models is one of the major barriers to female advancement to leadership within organisations.
Being surrounded by positive role models makes all the difference. They help you gain clarity about where you want your career to take you and usually display behaviour you can model to help you succeed. If there was a plethora of successful happy women ahead of you on the career ladder, wouldn’t it boost your confidence, give you hope, and inspire you to keep going?
Too right it would. But what do you do when they aren’t there?
3 myths about role models
If your firm has few (or no) female role models, one option you have is to leave. Sadly this is what many women do (as I did) even though they have worked hard to get where they are, and have a promising career ahead of them. But before you start composing your letter of resignation, here’s another option for you: find your own.
There are three myths about role models that we need to dispel:
1. A role model should be in a senior position in your organisation;
2. A single role model should have all the attributes you’re looking for; and
3. That role model should be of the same gender.
If there are no role models in your firm, this doesn’t mean there is no one to inspire you, motivate you and give you hope. It just means you need to widen your net and look further afield. Yes, it would be nice if the perfect role model not only existed but was someone you ran into in the corridors of your office everyday. But by restricting your aspirations to those in your profession, you are missing out on a rich array of personalities and life experiences from which to draw inspiration.
Build your own role model
Searching for a role model outside of your work place can be a fun and relatively easy exercise. All you have to do is understand what you’re looking for and know where to look. These four questions will get you started:
1. Which qualities do you most admire in others and would like to emulate yourself?
For example, mine are confidence, ambition, excellence, independence, strength, courage, success and style.
2. Which additional qualities are necessary to achieving success in your career?
In addition to those mentioned above, mine are courage, perseverance, talent, passion and resilience.
3. Find a match for each quality
have fun searching the internet, fiction, newspapers and your network of family, friends and colleagues and match one person for each of your above qualities.
4. Put it all where you can see it.
If you want them to give you hope and inspire you, you need to see them everyday, just as you would if they worked in your office. So you need to cut out pictures and photos and scribble down quotes and label each with the relevant quality. Stick all of this together to create one big phenomenal role model and put it somewhere you’ll see it every single day.
I found this exercise uplifting and energising. When I approached the idea of role models this way, I realised that the world was overflowing with people who could inspire and motivate me. People like Oprah, my role model for success; Rosa Parks, “first lady of the civil rights movement” who became my role model for courage; Beyonce, my role model for talent; Michelle Obama and Olivia Pope (yes, from the TV series Scandal), my role models for style; and my friend Penny Anderson, for resilience, having it all and making it in a man’s world. For honesty, integrity and perseverance, I look to my brother Calvin to inspire me; for confidence, I look to my husband, and last but never least, for laughter and love of life, I look to my four boys.