What does it take to be a Role Model?

Every year at INvolve we publish our EMpower, OUTstanding and HERoes Role Model Lists to recognise and celebrate a diverse range of individuals who are championing inclusion in business. These lists include over 500 people across a wide range of companies and industries who have embraced the title of ‘role model’ and made a conscious choice to use their position to try and make a positive difference for others. While the title of Role Model is so often associated with high profile company heads and entrepreneurs, there are many within our Role Model lists who are working quietly and effectively within their own organisations and networks to support others. Our EMpower, HERoes and OUTstanding Future Leaders Lists, for ethnic minorities, women and LGBT+ individuals respectively, exclusively feature those who don’t yet have the platform of top level seniority, but haven’t let this stop them from getting involved in diversity initiatives and visibly standing up for the values that they believe in.

Those who willingly take on the title of Role Model often do so after recognising the significance of the title in supporting inclusive cultures. As Catherine Bessant, Chief Operations & Technology Officer

Bank of America, our 2018 #1 OUTstanding Ally Executives List, explains “People have to believe that they can see themselves in the leadership of the future. They have to believe that there is a path to future success and the things they want in life can, in fact, be achieved. Role Models make all the difference”.

Role Models from minority groups provide concrete evidence and inspiration of what can be achieved within business. Karen Blackett, Country Manager & Chairwoman, WPP & MediaCom, our 2018 #1 EMpower Role Model, has seen this directly.  “I know the difference it made when I became the CEO of MediaCom in terms of the representation of ethnic minorities at the company: it went from 11 percent to 20 percent in five years. I think that’s in no small part because there was somebody at the top of the organisation who comes from a minority background. Being in my position with the intersectionality of my ethnicity, being a woman, and being a single mum, it allows people to think it’s possible, that they won’t be discriminated against.”

However, not everybody aspires to lead a large organisation, so having visible Role Models at all levels of a company and across a range of different roles is equally vital to show that anything can be achieved while remaining visible and vocal about your true self. This also reinforces why ally and advocate Role Models are so important in creating a business culture where anyone can succeed. In talking about LGBT+ inclusion, Catherine Bessant explains, “Progressing inclusion in business takes two important ingredients – it takes courageous people willing to be out at work and it takes allies to create the environment that supports and encourages and ensures success for those that do come out at work”. Those that stand up as ally and advocate Role Models give those from minority groups confidence that they will be supported, but just as importantly help shift the organisational norms towards being inclusive of others; not least by increasing the chances of  ‘calling out’ the behaviours which are counter to inclusion in a working environment.

There aren’t a set of rules when it comes to role modeling. The real focus is on the contribution and impact that can be made by an individual in their position in the workplace. “I think it’s a responsibility because when you get into a position of influence or seniority, how you perform and how you deliver will either widen the door or close the door for others.” Karen Blackett, talks here about the way in which being in a leadership role in the workplace creates a space for responsibility. In this sense, once someone from a minority background is working in a position of leadership, they become a role model even when they are not necessarily aware of it. What is important with responsibility is how a Role Model uses this position to make a difference in their place of work and the community around them.

Knowing how to take on this responsibility can pose as a challenge to many. Openness is a great place to begin with this. By being open and accessible as a leader, a Role Model can begin to build strong relationships with colleagues which helps to pave the way for starting conversations surrounding inclusivity. As a Role Model, there is a real opportunity to effect and shape the thinking and lives of others.

It is also a position that is highly rewarding. “Think about how much better even one person’s life can be by you getting involved – even that should be a good enough reason”, Billy Kamberis, Head of Sales, Service & Performance – Corporate & Investment Banking, Barclays, our 2018 #1 OUTstanding Future Leader, mentions how Role Modelling allows one to change the lives of others. This is something that can be highly rewarding for the Role Model and can also allow them to grow as a leader. Role Modelling can instill confidence in others from similar backgrounds, giving them a benchmark to work towards.

At INvolve, we’ve seen first-hand the power that role modelling can have. If you believe your work, or the work of somebody else deserves recognition, make sure you nominate for one of our lists during 2019. We have EMpower launching on 7th February, HERoes in May and OUTstanding in June. As our 2018 #1 Ethnic Minority Future Leader, Claudine Adeyemi, Associate, Mishcon de Reya LLP said, “I share when I’ve won an award or other personal and professional achievements on social media so that when people see me, they see someone that looks like them or has a similar background to them being successful.”







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