Move over puppies, kids, and selfies; photos of Hillary Rodham Clinton might start dominating your smartphone. A new study found that the image of this former Secretary of State and 2016 presidential frontrunner may hold the key to gender equality.
The study, published in the May issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, asked 149 students from a Swiss University to deliver a compelling political speech against increasing student fees. The participants, consisting of 81 women and 68 men, orated to an audience of six men and six women through a virtual reality program. For some students, the back wall of the virtual room featured a hanging portrait of Hillary Clinton. For others, it showed Bill Clinton or Angela Merkel. For the rest, the back wall appeared blank.
The researchers timed and videotaped the speeches, then asked participants to evaluate their performance. A separate group of people unaware of the experimental conditions also watched and evaluated the participants’ performance. Here’s the kicker: male participants in the study spoke longer and received the highest rankings when Bill Clinton or no picture adorned the back wall. The female participants spoke longer and received higher rankings when Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel adorned the back wall. The researchers conclude that looking at images of female role models while giving a speech improves women’s leadership skills. Now go! Go download 5,000 pictures of Hillary!
Of course, this study’s small sample size prevents us from drawing any irrefutable conclusions. At the very least, we can safely say that the image of female leaders emboldens women to assert their leadership skills—and in my book, even that little bit of girl power counts. Women need every leg-up on leadership we can get: the report on the Status of Women in North Carolina revealed that men still hold the majority of leadership positions (AKA power) and wealth in our state. Gender disparity is a vicious cycle, and the Swiss researchers agree: “If women fail to take leadership positions, they also fail to provide role models for junior women to follow.”
If you worry that you lack the time, talents, intelligence, personality, skills, and beauty— whatever—that it takes to succeed, then think again. A new survey of several thousand potential political candidates revealed that men are 60% more likely to call themselves “very qualified” to run for political office than women—even though both men and women had extremely similar credentials. This means that women like you—yes, you– possess the skillset and credentials to become leaders if you so choose, but that when you doubt yourself, the world doubts you, too.
Leave no room for doubt. If ever Hillary Clinton’s face fails to inspire you, just listen to her speech from the April 5 Women in the World Summit: “(Women) are agents of change. We are drivers of peace. All we need is a fighting chance.” I plan to fight for that chance. I already printed out Hillary’s picture and taped it to my desk. Her smile cheers me on as I write this article, and, hopefully, made me just a little bit braver than usual. You be the judge.