The idea of a “role model” (a term that has even been adopted in other languages) can be applied to all areas of human behaviour, from the media to the business world. Although the individual need of having examples of people to follow has been widely studied in the social sciences, the concept is also used as a basis for managerial practices and entrepreneurial creation: imitation has become a true source of wealth creation.
Imitation, the “glue” that holds society together
The concept of imitation is not a new one. It began with memetics, a notion developed initially by Richard Dawkins, a British revolutionary biologist and ethologist, and continued with the discovery of mirror neurons and René Girard’s study of the mimetic theory of desire. The role of the imitation mechanism in society has been widely explored from an academic point of view. Researchers agree that it plays a role at an individual, social and societal level. What is new, though, is the direct application of this concept to the business world.
The wide usage of the expression ‘role model’ is not surprising in the least. The concept can be traced back to the academic work of Robert King Merton, the sociologist to whom we notably owe the idea of serendipity. At its origins was a study that examined the way medical students learn their profession. Merton demonstrated that the acquisition of new skills was more significant from the position of a clinical professor and the methods that he/she demonstrates in practice, and less significant than that from purely theoretical teaching. This parallel may easily be transposed to the business world.
OK, but whom?
Across all continents, the month of March provides the opportunity to highlight the subject of female ‘empowerment’ in society. But how can we empower women? What are the best triggers for change?
If we look at the numbers in France, for example, the results are striking. Women make up 52% of the population, and yet they represent 18% of the top 1,000 personalities receiving media attention, are responsible for 7% of funds raised, and represent 2% of CEOs.
There are certainly several ways to guide women towards leadership positions. One of the easiest is by highlighting the individual stories of women; every woman can contribute in their own way to this. This will help women find inspiration, launch their careers in a field they are passionate about, and ultimately achieve success.
In short, for a society with more female leaders, we must celebrate those who have been successful, so that other women may see them and say, “She did it, so I can do it too”.
Social media: a powerful sounding board
The advent of social media has sparked a profound change in the media landscape, and specifically that of the migration of prescribing power as well as the emergence of fragmented influence. Leaders stand out on social media, where attention is constantly fought for, by using their unique voices.
Two platforms where leaders can make their voices heard are of particular interest : LinkedIn and Twitter.
With close to 740 million members in 200 countries, including 20 million in France and 70% of the active population, over the course of two decades, LinkedIn has become the leading professional social networking site. It has been the social media platform with the most digital trust among web users for three consecutive years and achieved significant success in 2020 with a 60% increase in overall content production.
As for Twitter, for example, 71% of French internet users believe that it is important for a CEO to have a Twitter account, and 53% feel that the more a top-level executive posts on the network, the more likely they are to have a good brand image. The ‘blue bird’-branded network thus presents itself as the top platform for CEOs, in both normal times and in times of crisis.
Furthermore, executives on Twitter are perceived as being more modern (+54%), open-minded (+51%), and responsive (+50%) than those who are not present. In addition, 51% of Twitter users (vs. 27% of French people online) have already been positively influenced by a CEO’s message on the social network. Finally, the content produced by leaders goes beyond the borders of the platform: 40% of people online view Twitter content in other media, as well as on the platform. In short, a CEO who shares a message on Twitter is not just sharing it with the network’s community but is rather reaching all consumers of media.
Making individual voices heard on these two leading networks not only presents the opportunity to develop one’s own personal branding but also makes it possible to use particularly valuable channels to highlight great successes.
Now more than ever our female students, entrepreneurs, and young managers really need to hear women’s success stories. Message to all women out there: do not be afraid of using social media to put the spotlight on your achievements, and do not be intimidated by the idea of becoming a role model. Not only for your sake but also for the sake of others. This is to ensure that the issue of the workplace gender gap, which takes centre stage on 8 March every year, becomes a thing of the past.
Daria Chernova is a Franco-Russian expert in talent development. She has worked for well-known companies such as the Maison CHANEL in Paris and Dubai.
Franco-British, Elodie Andriot has gained her knowledge in the marketing teams of major media players, including the BBC, Canal Plus and Condé Nast.
Both graduates of ESCP Business School and the creators of a media company that highlighted the career paths of exceptional women, Elodie and Daria co-founded Renowme in January 2020 to help business leaders find their tone of voice on social media by deploying communication techniques used by start-ups.