Why positive role models are critical to culture change

Parker Curry is one of my inspirations of 2018. In a year in which inspiring stories of political leadership in the US are thin on the ground one incredible moment stands out.

Parker Curry looks at a painting of Michelle Obama

Parker Curry is an inspiration in her own right

Many of you will know Parker’s story. She’s the two year old African American girl who was awestruck by the recently unveiled portrait of Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. Parker couldn’t take her eyes off the distinctive portrait of the former First Lady and CNN reported Parker’s mother as saying,

“I realised that she (Parker) believes Michelle Obama is a queen, and she wants to be a queen as well.”

And there it is. One photo speaks volumes about the critical importance of positive role modelling. Just a short time ago it was a revolutionary notion to many in the USA that an African-American would be President, with the idea of a First Lady of colour just as remote. Parker Curry has seen something that took 232 years to come to be.

And when you boil it down the value of role models is so much of the raison d’etre of Global Women.

Role models and mentors are critical to become our best selves. A role model is a conscious mental companion in the journey of our lives, quietly energising us and encouraging us to aim for our best.  And the obverse is true. Without role models we have no reference point, no anchor, no inspiration. The absence of positive role modelling leaves a gaping hole in a life, let alone a career.

It’s also true that our role models can come from vastly different genders or backgrounds to our own. In my career many of my managers were women from whom I learned so much. I know plenty of successful women who take mentoring and inspiration from people very different to themselves.

As a leader, it’s worth taking time to reflect on your own role models. And who might be a role model for. You may be a role model without even realising it, as others may be quietly inspired by watching the way you carry yourself.

On at least one comparative measure, New Zealand women can take heart. In 2017, only 19.6 percent of the US Congress are women. In New Zealand 38.4 percent of the MPs in the New Zealand Parliament are women. Not only is our gender diversity at an historic high, it is twice the rate of political representation of the US Congress.

I’ll leave the last comment to Parker’s mother:

“As a female and as a girl of colour, it’s really important that I show her people who look like her that are doing amazing things and are making history so that she knows she can do it.”


Simon Arcus is a governance consultant and former CEO of the Institute of Directors. He is currently based in the USA.