Thursday, 16 March 2006

Women need female role models

The promotion of young female MPs like 26-year-old Jo Swinson, the Lib Dems’ newly-appointed Scotland spokesperson (pictured left; Baroness Greenfield pictured right), could be just what’s needed to inspire more women into politics and other male-dominated fields. According to Penelope Lockwood at the University of Toronto, women more than men need role models who are the same gender as they are.

Lockwood asked 44 female and 38 male students to read a fictional newspaper account of an outstanding professional who had excelled in the same field that they aspired to work in. Some of the students read an account of a female professional while others read about a man.

Afterwards female students who’d read an account of a female professional rated themselves more positively than the female students who read about a man, and more positively than control students who hadn’t read any account. By contrast, male students who read about a male role model did not rate themselves any more positively than male students who read about a female role model, or than control students who hadn’t read any account.

In a second study, students were asked to name a real person who was a role-model for them in their career ambitions. Sixty-three per cent of female students chose a woman, 75.6 per cent of male students chose a man. But crucially, whereas the male students said gender was not a factor in their choice, 27 per cent of female students who named a female role-model said that they were inspired by the gender-related obstacles overcome by their choice.

“Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success, illustrating the kinds of achievements that are possible for women around them. They demonstrate that it is possible to overcome traditional gender barriers, indicating to other women that high levels of success are indeed attainable”, Lockwood concluded.
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Lockwood, P. (2006). “Someone like me can be successful”: Do college students need same-gender role models? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 36-46.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

5 comments:

  1. As a man of colour, this only makes sense: if you did the same study with black and white people instead of men and women, I think you would find the same thing. Any group that is not part of the dominant power group would feel the same way about positive images of their group.

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  2. This is something I've been thinking about a lot. I believe that there is so much truth in it but that unfortunately it is incredibly hard for young, driven women to find such role models. The main obstacles are identifying suitable women mentors / role models, having access (in one way or another) to them and lastly, them wanting to be perceived as such.
    Personally, I think it is a real shame that most women are not naturally inclined to build strong networks and acts as mentors to each other. I'm convinced that all of us would profit so much from strong female support networks (in a learning / business contexts). Fortunately, with the rise of the Internet, there are now at least a few such networks and I'm looking forward to these communities gaining even more momentum over the next few years.

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  3. This is a strong message that taking simple actions as a woman... or person of color etc. can have significant impacts. Very much the "think global act local" aphorism. Thanks.. and to findingada.com for leading me here.

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  4. I guess that's one of the things which we can label under the glass ceiling predicament of women's rights.

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  5. Anonymous6:36 pm

    it's not that we aren't naturally wired to seek networks and mentors, it is just that we are socialized to be docile and that's it.

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