The Power of Role Models

Girls are exposed to both positive and negative role models every day: a strong mother who stands up against domestic abuse or a female celebrity that uses her sex appeal to be popular. All of these people affect how a girl views her own potential. These are the people who girls use as references for whom they will become and whose behaviour they will emulate.

A girl needs to see confidence, leadership and accomplishment in other women in order to envision herself with those qualities. A programme designed to empower girls must provide powerful, positive role models. As programme directors, it is helpful to expose girls to a diverse set of role models as consistently as possible. Strong role models can be women who are older, skilled athletes, coaches, community leaders, successful business people, celebrities, politicians, religious leaders, confident peers or any strong woman whose presence will resonate with the girls. Although there is power to showing girls women who are international heroines, there is also a power to exposing them to local people.

Local examples provide more easily imaginable visions of success. A key component to presenting girls with role models is to make sure the success experienced by the role models is attainable and replicable in their minds. Research has shown that when individuals feel that the role model in front of them has attained a status unreachable to them, their presence can actually be demoralizing.1  If possible, find role models who exemplify an area in which girls have an interest and where they need help in personal development. Find a person who can share their personal experience with personal growth in that area. Men can certainly serve as positive role models; however, there is an inherent value in same-gender role modelling.

Tips: Creating Opportunities For Girls to Learn From Role Models

  • Organize events where role models speak to girls about their experiences.
  • Try to pair up individual girls with older mentors with the intention of creating long-lasting relationships.
  • Take girls to see athletic events with older participants. Arrange a meet-and-greet afterwards to allow girls to interact with players.
  • Set up guest coaching sessions with successful coaches from your region.
  • Ensure that all those in positions of power within the organisation are serving as positive role models for participants.
  • Seek role models outside of the sport arena. Invite a successful businesswoman or female politician to come to the programme and speak to the girls.
  • Consider inviting men or women with a disability to come speak, as they often have a powerful impact on girls with and without disabilities.
  • Discuss the concept of “negative role modelling” with girls, i.e., simply because a person is successful does not mean that they are worthy of being a role model. Challenge girls to evaluate virtues, values and expectations related to these role models.

1. Lockwood, P. & Kunda, Z. (1997). Superstars and me: Predicting the impact of role models on the self, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 91-103.