Someone recently asked me about my role model. I had no good answer for such a weighty question. Go to known figures, like Elon Musk or Beyonce, you look unoriginal. Go with your parents and you look predictable or unworldly. But my ideal role model - a woman I worked with who exhibits an approach I can relate to - is hard to find. But do I need to have a female role model in the first place?
What is so interesting about the role model question is that there are many possible answers. It’s a glimpse into the vision we have for ourselves, the person we aim to become. Though I admire the personal and professional approach of men and women alike, I still want to find that female role model. One who dealt with similar obstacles, opportunities and internal debates that span both the workplace and their personal life.
After working in a share of competitive environments that attract the boldest and brightest, I’ve met my share of amazing women. Women who know how to manoeuvre the ins and outs of business while remaining true to themselves. But there was never ‘the one’. To find a comparable role model, options are required. It’s not just a few women who needs to succeed, but many - and in their own ways.
The main reasons I would like to find a female role model is that I professionally struggled with tone of voice. Assertive can be read as aggressive, and kindness as submission if framed incorrectly. Monthly, even daily, I reevaluate my approach to both assertiveness and kindness. There is no right answer, which is why I look for examples and insights.
Working hours might be from 9-5, plus or minus, but that doesn’t mean personal and professional decisions live in such neatly defined silos. Questions like personal life, relationships, living abroad, health routines and personal development affect work as well. The difficulty now is that the definition of professional success is intertwined with personal fulfilment. Finding a true role model means finding someone with both an aspiring professional and personal approach.
But even if I siloed our role models per activity - one for professional, one for personal and others for our various interests - there are some discrepancies. My hobbies/profession as a sailor, industrial designer, sneaker designer, stand-up comedian or pole vaulter are skewed more male. On the other hand, my participation in gymnastics, dance, cooking, sewing or yoga leans more female. What is difficult is that I my interests, like many people, are varied.
After ten years in the work world, I’ve realised that I will probably never be able to answer the question, ‘who is my role model’ with a sole, female representative. At first this was disappointing. I thought - did the business world do me wrong; are there not enough opportunities for women; and why can’t I relate to others? But then I realised my role model is a collective. Some are women, some are men, some are older and some are younger.
This has to do with my varied interests, as well as the current professional atmosphere. There are numerous professional paths these days, not just an upward trajectory. When I look at my career development and personal life, the goal posts are constantly moving. To be honest, no one really knows what the job market will look like in 2050. To have a role model who was successful today, doesn’t mean they are the model for tomorrow. Today, I look for multiple role models, while trying to find the role model within myself.