The study, published in the May issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that looking at images of female role models while giving a speech could improve women's leadership skills, reported Popular Science. The researchers had 149 Swiss university students (81 women and 68 men) give a political speech arguing against higher student fees. Some of the students gave their speeches while looking at a photograph of Hillary Clinton hanging on the back wall, some saw a picture of Bill Clinton, some gazed at Angela Merkel's face and some spoke with nothing hanging on the wall.
After the speeches, audience members were asked to evaluate them, and the participants were asked to evaluate elements of their own performances, including body language and fluency. The researchers found that the female participants spoke for longer and their speeches were rated higher by both the audience and themselves when they were looking a portrait of Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel, reported Research Digest.
"We believe these findings are important because although a wealth of research has studied the effects of role models on academic and math performance, there is no research that investigates the effect of female political role models on successful leadership behaviour," the researchers wrote.
Though the sample size was small, the results of this study suggest that increasing the presence of female leaders and role models could give more young women the confidence to demonstrate strong leadership skills in a world where men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and business. It's not clear whether these results apply to skills outside of public speaking and the political sphere, but anecdotal evidence in the wake of the publication of Sheryl Sandberg's much-discussed book "Lean In" suggests that it might. "It's been less than a month since Sheryl Sandberg published 'Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,' and I've already had two women bring up her name in salary negotiations," wrote BuzzFeed editor in chief Ben Smith on April 9th.
The study and reactions to Sandberg's book put an interesting question to women: What could you do if you remembered in moments when you need to lead that Clinton and Sandberg and Merkel have been there and done that? Maybe a lot more than you think.