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.

Lockwood, P. (2006). “Someone like me can be successful”: Do college students need same-gender role models? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 36-46.
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