Maria Adamson and Elisabeth Kelan

Questioning Contemporary Role Models: Celebrity Business Women the Corporate Feminist?

Recent years have seen the rise of attention to the exploration of female role models and their ability to aid a much needed increase in the number of women in work and managerial positions. While the significance of female role models for the increase of the number of women in leadership positions is a regularly rehearsed argument, little is known about the kind of behaviour, traits and characteristics role models actually ‘model’. Prior research suggests that women are indeed inspired by outstanding women (Lockwood 2006: p 290). However, Sealy and Singh (2010) highlight that female role models may be rejected by women depending on the kind of femininity they model, e.g. childless businesswomen tend to be discarded by women as role models. Eriksson-Zetterquist (2008) suggest that women build positive ‘mental constructs’ that contain  combined traits of different people therefore there is a need for a variety of models. Yet, Hopfl (2010: 403) has argued that the range of contemporary female role models is limited as they mainly model masculine behaviour and trajectory, and that the figure of a ‘formidable woman’ is disappearing. Interestingly though, many contemporary business celebrities recently appear to advocate seemingly feminist virtues and female advancement. Using discourse analysis methodology, this paper looks at autobiographies of popular female business leaders who have ‘celebrity’ status and who may be perceived by women as potential role models by women to find out the type of attitudes, behaviours, characteristics and values they construct as desirable in business. We explore these narratives through the lens of postfeminist sensibility (Gill, 2007; McRobbie, 2006) and raise questions of how and to what extent such forms of executive feminism can challenge systematic gender inequalities.


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