Guides claim lack of female role models 'could be damaging'

The cast of The Only Way Is Essex Reality TV shows like The Only Way is Essex have been blamed for shaping unrealistic views of what life is really like

Related Stories

A lack of positive female role models is damaging the future prospects of girls and young women, Girlguiding UK has claimed.

A study of girls aged between seven and 21 reveals many use reality television and celebrities as a blueprint for how they should live their lives.

Girlguiding UK have identified a link between a narrow range of role models, and limited future aspirations.

One in three girls said they looked up to their mother the most.

Around 55% of girls and young women questioned agreed there is a lack of strong aspirational women in general.

Tracey Murray, head of guiding development, told the BBC that the "glitzy champagne lifestyle" of some celebrities is giving girls an unrealistic view on what life is really like.

"The type of role models that they were talking to us about tended to come from the world of TV and rich and famous celebrities, rather than the broader range of role models, like women who work in business, sport and other walks of life.

Start Quote

Karren Brady

Strong role models at home and in the local community are vital to showing girls and young women that they are capable of achieving great things”

End Quote Karren Brady Businesswoman and TV personality

"We want to hear that girls are exposed to a broad range of women, so that they can have aspirations and interests, and are encouraged to make the right choices for them in future".

Towie 'shapes behaviour'

Many of those interviewed struggled to name a single female sports star, even in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic Games, but could name several singers and actresses.

The report - Girls' Attitudes Explored… Role Models - found that reality TV programmes such as The Only Way is Essex (Towie) and Made in Chelsea "shaped the girls view of relationships and their own behaviour".

Other shows, such as the Channel 4 drama Skins and US import Jersey Shore, have been accused of normalising and glamourising promiscuous sex, drinking and drugs.

Ruth Wrigley, the executive producer at Towie, told BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast she was not worried about the image of women the show portrayed, and believes it is a realistic view of how certain women in today's society live their lives.

"I think a lot of the girls in Towie are entrepreneurial, and run shops and a beauty salon.

"I grew up in a society where if I went to the doctors, it was a man, or to the dentist, it was a man. My daughters now experience women in all sorts of roles.

"Within a generation they can see women achieving more or less whatever they want, and I hope that as their mum I have given them the inspiration and encouragement to do that, if they so choose," she added.

Girl guides playing in the park Mothers were considered the strongest female role model by girls aged between seven and 21
'Jobs for the boys'

The study also found that certain careers - such as engineering - are being dismissed as "jobs for boys".

Around one in six girls said they were put off an engineering career, because they do not know of many women who work in the industry.

Start Quote

There aren't many visible role models who can explain how rewarding and exciting these careers are”

End Quote Ruth Wilson The UKRC and WISE

It said that young women "often conform to conventional - even stereotypical - [career] preferences".

Equality group The UKRC and WISE - the "leading organisation" for gender equality in science, engineering and technology - said it was not surprised by the findings.

The organisation's Ruth Wilson said: "We're up against convention and stereotype on the one hand, and the low numbers of women in many areas of science, engineering and technology, on the other.

"So there aren't many visible role models who can explain how rewarding and exciting these careers are."

She said The UKRC and Wise helped women in these areas to build their profile so they could become role models and also encouraged industry to recruit and retain girls and women "and maybe help them get right to top".

The study suggested that about 12% of girls want to become teachers, 10% hairdressers, 7% a doctor or nurse or vet.

The report added that some want to work in music or television, but only aspire to success as a singer or actress rather than considering the other paths in those industries.

The girls asked could only name a handful of successful businesswomen, most of them because they have an established celebrity profile.

Many girls would consider setting up their own business, but others were daunted by the "pressure and responsibility" it would involve.

Karren Brady, one of Britain's most high-profile businesswomen and star of BBC One show The Apprentice, believes strong female role models are essential.

"Our next generation of successful and influential women need strong role models if they are to match and, hopefully, surpass the current generation.

"This doesn't just apply to the business world - it's true in all walks of life. Strong role models at home and in the local community are vital to showing girls and young women that they are capable of achieving great things."

Almost all the girls surveyed wanted to have children at some stage in their lives, but are aware this would have an effect on their working career.

Girlguiding UK say they are working with Everywoman - a UK-wide membership organisation for women in business - to create a series of "day in the life" videos, featuring successful women in a range of different careers shedding light on the reality of their professions.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    We seem to be such a superficial society looking for role models you used to look up to parents, teachers in fact people who helped and gave up their time for you. The media litters our lives with individuals who are only interested in themselves. I'm not saying there aren't roles models in the public eye but it would be better to look to your local community, trouble is they don't sell papers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Unfortunately everything on old media is about entertainment because it sells more profitably. Good role models are not obviously entertaining because primarily what they do is not entertain. They do serious dull stuff like be clever, follow a vocation, quietly obtain consensus, invent and design, glue disparate teams together, devote 100k hours to become expert at something.They are invisible

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    I can't really think of anyone 'famous' that i would consider to be a good 'role model' for my 13 year old daughter. I just spent a whole evening trying to inspire and excite some interest in science, engineering, and the physical world about us (that's not cool from Dad!) Women promoted in the media are far more interested in appearance and social positioning than all else. The media are at fault

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    I grew up without any role models, I just saw and learnt from my parents. Unfortunately with our PC society roles models now mean how to get the most out of society without putting anything in. the ideal of working hard, looking after your loved ones, trying to better yourself has been replaced with a sense of entitlement and how to rip off the system. Hence banking, we reap what we sow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    This is such rubbish, When I was a girl, in the 60s, there were not only no female "role models," there were very few women in positions of responsibility or in public life. We didn't look to anyone to model ourselves on. Those who had our best interests at heart and wanted us to succeed, told us to be ourselves and to believe in ourselves and, if we were very lucky, were available to mentor us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Why is this mainly about careers, jobs and money earning? There is more to life than capitalism. My role models include my grandfather and Carl Sagan. It's about who inspires me as a person, not a worker.

    Why should role models for girls and young women have to be female anyway? What's wrong with females having role models who happen to be male? Are males just too revolting or something?

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Ignore the issues of the day
    And have a rant on HYS!

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    If we were to identify and promote suitable role models for girls it would be like censorship, and like censorship it would be bad.

    Girls and boys are aware of an avalanche of potential role models doing whatever they do. And it is a great freedom to be able to choose your own 10 or 100 heros and define who you are for yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    "And what are our Male role models?
    David Cameron?
    Ed Millibland?
    Simon Cowell" - Indeed no! Mine is Captain Oates & in fact any man who views being a "man" as meaning you use your ability to take care of others (not for reward or recongition) - I'm sure thats not PC any more, but I don't care!

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Concerned about the lack of female role models? Be a female role model.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    "...Mothers were considered the strongest female role model by girls aged between seven and 21..."


    Having seen many of the "mothers" round here, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Just wanted to add that it really is a horrible agenda supported by the BBC to attempt to brainwash anyone ,regardless of gender, that being 'in business' equates with success.

    As mentioned earlier,self worth is a goal, not the ability to fleece people so you can scrape the financial deal together to buy a shiny baubel of a car.

    People,thankfully, usually know better anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    How does one ensure that a manufactured role model is accepted & adopted? Isn't that what's least likely to happen? Role models are more often rebellious than conformist. More troubling is who gets to decide what parameters these role models should have. After all, the fundamental aim is to create a personality cult. Lastly, who can tell if such role models are being received as intended?

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Attempting to portray a woman - or a man - as a 'success' because they are in business is just wrong.

    Many women have been successful in many ways. Caring for a loved one, doing what they want to in life, overcoming childhood issues, battling cancer etc,etc.

    I would have hoped with the breath taking incompetence shown by those bankers that occupational time is seen as nothing special.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    They're not wrong - kids speak like US drug dealers, dress like MTV / footballers wives / bimbos and aspire to be either sports stars or musicians.

    And there's no Plan B - when 99.9% of them fail they have no qualifications, no employable skills or useful qualities. And they wonder why unemployment is high in the younger age groups.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Seriously, this HYS is starting to look like a "Miss World" competition. I'll tell you what, instead of deciding who to fawn over why not just tell them to become a role model.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Loo is my role model.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    It is a bit depressing that a lot of young girls seem to aspire to the quick-fix route to fame & fortune via reality T.V.,marrying the right sportsman or degrading themselves as 'glamour' models,but there are some positive role models;Adele being one that springs to mind.Sadly our society is now fully capitalist with all that goes with it;false hope & false values.The American dream is now ours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.


    Thanks for that. I would have replied sooner but I was ordering a chippy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    a muffin top is sprouted by putting a size 18 tummy into size 10 jeans therefore squeezing the excess flab over the top of said jeans creating the illusion of a muffin shape. The fatter one is the bigger the muffin, that's why mine is bitesize as i do refrain from more eating more than one maccy D a day!


Page 1 of 6


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.