Are the aspirational elite too detached from us to be role models?

By Natasha Lau, Consultant at Transform

The fight for gender equality is now in the spotlight and slowly but surely, women are breaking into industries that archaically have been dominated by men. As a result, more empowering female role models are emerging, with the likes of Sheryl Sandberg and Jessica Ennis-Hill.

Yet the question up for discussion is — is it more discouraging than it is encouraging for the everyday woman to consider these titans as role models?

Firstly, I would like to make clear that by no means am I trying to belittle their accomplishments. These women have been, and should be, celebrated. They have broken through the glass ceiling showing women around the world that it can be done, and they have pushed themselves to the limit and shown extreme amounts of self-discipline and dedication to get where they are.

Yet, it is for this very reason that the everyday woman may struggle to relate. Sheryl Sandberg for example, COO of one of the powerful tech corporations in the world with a net worth of £1.2 billion, may seem a tad farfetched and unobtainable for many. For example, I’m a 21-year-old just beginning a career in digital- should I really ‘lean in’[1] and challenge my seniors?

Jessica Ennis-Hill and Sheryl Sandberg

Or for an older woman who has decided she would like to try a new sport, Jessica Ennis-Hill- who has been training to compete in the Olympics since she was 11- may cause said woman to feel like she’s missed the bandwagon. Or the younger girl who wants to start a sport, but doesn’t want to give up her life to a rigorous exercise routine, could the horror stories of hardcore training be off-putting?

And it is for this reason, that campaigns such as the Sport England’s #ThisGirlCan and Dove’s Real Beauty gained traction as they did. These campaigns hit the nail on the head by using women that their audience could relate to, rather than women that their audience could only dream of relating to. They showed that role models sit on a spectrum of all forms of success, and that taking that first step in the right direction can sometimes be enough to be a role model to someone.

Whilst the powerful, world-recognised role models are definitely women to look up to and be inspired by, this can be a little intimidating and hard to relate to for most. We need more role models visible in the middle ground. A mentor from your network to look up to, such as the CEO of your company (Emma Robertson, I’m looking at you!) or a running partner to help get you up at 6am in the morning — taking one step at a time. Surround yourself with, and actively build, a network of people who encourage you to do better and show you that it is possible from where you are standing, not just the people you have to squint to see all the way up to their pedestal.

If you’re looking for a place to start, Transform’s Women in Digital network have women at all stages of their career that you can connect with at both a personal and professional level.

By Natasha Lau for Women in Digital

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