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The gendered nature of role model status: an empirical study

Audrey J. Murrell (University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA)
Thomas J. Zagenczyk (Clemson University, Greenville, South Carolina, USA)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 1 October 2006




The purpose of this paper is to understand better the gendered nature of role model status within organizations. The paper aims to argue that women require organizational legitimacy to be perceived as a role model, whereas men rely primarily on the strength of social ties within their friendship networks.


An empirical study of admissions department employees at a large eastern university within the USA was conducted. Using a social network approach, participants were asked to identify advice, friendship and role model relationships and provide information about awards and recognition received from the organization.


The results showed that, in order to be perceived as a role model, females needed to give (but not ask for) advice, earn organizational rewards, hold leadership positions in the organization, and maintain strong ties with other employees. Males only had to have a number of friendship or advice ties to be seen as a role model.

Research limitations/implications

The findings are consistent with the idea that females need to establish formal organizational status or legitimacy (e.g. leadership roles, rewards) in order to be perceived as a role model. In addition, balancing advice‐giving versus advice‐seeking is more important for female compared with male role models.


This paper examines the concept of role modeling using a social network analysis, thus providing new insight about the impact of advice and friendship network centrality on role model status in organizations.



Murrell, A.J. and Zagenczyk, T.J. (2006), "The gendered nature of role model status: an empirical study", Career Development International, Vol. 11 No. 6, pp. 560-578.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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