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The Value of a Role Model

The first evennatt of Kerning The Gap got off to a resounding start – with Cheryl Giovannoni, recent CEO of Ogilvy sharing her thoughts on how businesses, and individuals, can benefit from addressing the issues that surround gender inequality in the design industry.

Cheryl started out with an interesting truth; the future of work is more feminine. As we move away from ‘command and control’ styles of leadership and embrace communication, collaboration and empathy, women have never been more valuable to the board room.  This is supported by the latest Mc Kinsey report that for companies on the UK’s FTSE 350 index, all-male boards performed 0.53 per cent worse than companies with at least one woman in the boardroom. In absolute numbers, this translates to £48.5bn lost every year

So, if the business case is so solid, why aren’t there more women in senior positions?

Well, controversially, amongst the many things women are already battling, our worst enemy could be ourselves. Cheryl listed eight things that people, and women in particular, commonly do to hold themselves back:

  1. We don’t ask for the right kind of help
  2. We don’t build our networks religiously
  3. We aren’t our own PR machines
  4. We are convinced we are imposters
  5. We are too busy doing the day job
  6. We don’t think we “look like” or “act like” the leadership
  7. We “settle” for what’s on offer
  8. We keep telling ourselves how lucky we are

Not easy things to overcome overnight. One big help in this journey of development is the value of positive role-models. People we can look up to, emulate and be inspired by. But whilst role models are valuable, sponsors and mentors are priceless. People who you can actively learn from, and that will push and champion your success. Importantly, these are as likely (and need to be) men as much as women.

Seeking this kind of development also helps to build those all important networks, and the ability to be your own PR machine.

Back to our previous point about the future feminization of business, this isn’t just a one-way transaction – there are huge advantages for men to seek female mentors, including, but by no means limited to:

  • To be a better listener
  • To be more empathetic
  • To communicate and collaborate better
  • To think more holistically
  • To trust their intuition
  • That the status quo is no longer an option

So if it’s good for everyone, why don’t more people do it? Well, it can be hard to find the right person, and even more tricky to work out how to ask. Schemes like the DBA’s 20/20 mentoring programme are a brilliant place to start – as they find you the right match and give you all the tools you need to make the most of the time you have with your mentor. Tools and experience that you can take forward into finding even more mentors (the more the merrier!) and in turn sharing them with your team.

And if you’re thinking about becoming a mentor, well, I think Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, put it best when she said

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Amen to that, Madeleine. Amen.

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