The importance of role models is almost always mentioned in the ongoing conversation about workplace gender equality. Successful role models inspire up-and-comers and repopulate the pipeline of talent by proving that it can indeed be done.

But the Financial Times challenged the seemingly common-sense principle that successful women are automatically good examples for other women in this piece that’s worth a read.

There is some undeniable evidence that high-achieving women wield influence that is overwhelmingly positive. A constitutional amendment in India in 1993, for instance, required village councils to reserve one-third of their seats for women. The rule increased the share of women in local posts dramatically, plus the presence of more female village leaders prompted more women to speak up at meetings and saw more parents encourage their daughters to pursue advanced education.

But there are counterpoints to those sorts of examples. Take the scarcity of women CEOs in the Fortune 500. Their thin ranks support the theory that if the women in leadership posts are mostly white, highly educated—and often childless—they can deter, rather than motivate, other women who do not fit into those molds.

For Brenda Trenowden of the 30% Club, which advocates for more women in senior corporate roles, Step 1 to addressing that problem is acknowledging it. Step 2 sounds easy but is difficult in practice: senior women must talk about their rise to the top “authentically and frankly, warts and all,” so other women understand there is no “correct” way to find success.


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