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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Williams

Why are diverse role models important in business?

Our work at Clu revolves around creating sustainable and diverse talent pipelines in business. And a key facet of this is being able to tell stories with diverse talent about diverse leaders that already exist in organisations and across sectors.

But why are diverse role models so important in business, and how do they help increase diverse talent acquisition?

What the research says

When consulting academic literature, it is useful to examine research on female career advancement. While our focus at Clu stems from all overlooked talent communities, it is not unreasonable to draw parallels.

Though the obstacles to success for many overlooked communities are not identical, the cost of not having more visible role models for all groups is consistent. In this academic review, the author cited “the lack of appropriate role models as an important barrier for women to achieve senior positions”. More specifically, they found that observing role models was a crucial part of a professional’s career development, without which their ability to advance to senior positions would be hindered.

Drawing heavily on the research into professionals who were transitioning from middle to senior management and leadership roles, the review states:

“By observing successful role models, the subjects built a store of tacit knowledge, attitudes and impression management routines. They created the idea of a ‘possible self’ – the role identity they wanted to assume.”

Clearly, role models provide more than ‘encouragement’ or a ‘positive example’ to younger professionals. Observation of role models is crucial in an individual's professional development.

So that’s good for people; Why are diverse role models good for business?

It is well documented that a lack of inclusivity leads to ‘brain drain’, the phenomenon of talented individuals leaving an organisation because of some dissatisfaction in the workplace (for more on this, see “LGBT Diversity: Show Me The Business Case”).

The brain drain argument is a key part of the broader business case for inclusion, but the research suggests that a dearth of role models specifically exacerbates this issue. Sealy and Singh found that lacking female role models frequently leads to higher rates of female resignation.

Diverse communities often leave organisations to join other, more synergistic organisations where they feel their qualities will be recognised and appreciated. The issue has been highlighted in a study by Catalyst/Conference Board (2003) of a large number of European managers who cite the lack of female role models as the second biggest barrier (after sex-role stereotyping of leadership) to women’s career success.”

It seems fair to say that there is so much data advocating for the importance of role models yet so many organisations still struggle to get the foundations right when building the talent pipelines and progression programmes needed to develop a diverse leadership team.

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