Women laughing

Australian women are looking to role models with a bit of integrity.

I'm feeling a lot of love for female journalists at the moment.

Lisa Wilkinson's Andrew Olle speech was impressive and inspired while Annabel Crabb's article about female TV presenters being judged by appearance was witty yet shocking.

It's refreshing to see women supporting each other.

Westpac Professional Women and Their Role Models: 1. Ita Buttrose Click for more photos

Westpac survey - Professional Women and Their Role Models

Westpac Professional Women and Their Role Models: 1. Ita Buttrose

  • Westpac Professional Women and Their Role Models: 1. Ita Buttrose
  • Westpac Professional Women and Their Role Models: 2. Governor General Quentin Bryce
  • Westpac Professional Women and Their Role Models: 3. Cate Blanchett
  • Westpac Professional Women and Their Role Models: 4. Julia Gillard
  • Westpac Professional Women and Their Role Models: 5. Dr Fiona Wood
  • Westpac Professional Women and Their Role Models: 6. Penny Wong
  • Westpac Professional Women and Their Role Models:7. Dawn Fraser
  • Westpac Professional Women and Their Role Models: 8. Gail Kelly
  • Westpac Professional Women and Their Role Models:9. Layne Beachley
  • Westpac Professional Women and Their Role Models: 10. Jennifer Hawkins
  • Westpac Professional Women and Their Role Models: 11. Melissa Doyle
  • Westpac Professional Women and Their Role Models: 12. Gai Waterhouse
  • Westpac Professional Women and Their Role Models: 13. Gina Rinehart

When Samantha Armytage replaced Melissa Doyle on Channel Seven's Sunrise the public (and some members of the media) were practically chanting "fight, fight, fight". Yet they didn't contribute to the angst and just got on and did their jobs.

Women in the media are often portrayed as harsh, competitive shrews who would eat their young and quickly stab another broad in the back to get ahead.

And sure, some of those women exist. I had one female boss who constantly had me in tears. So much so that as I left for the office my boyfriend would say "have a nice day at cry".

But I've also experienced incredible kindness and support. I've realised it all comes down to mentoring.

And there is quite a buzz about female mentors and role models at the moment.

Just last week the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance launched an impressive national initiative to support women working in media.

Some of the big names lending gravitas to the union campaign include ABC TV presenter Caroline Jones, Sky News anchor Tracey Spicer, Fairfax investigative journalist Kate McClymont, Private Media publishing director Marina Go, former Sydney Morning Herald editor Amanda Wilson and News Corp columnist Angela Mollard.

Impressive journalists. Impressive women.

The idea is for senior women to offer formal mentoring to female colleagues in a bid to reduce workplace inequity, combat bullying and give support and advice.

"This is by no means a divisive campaign; it's all about women helping other women to achieve their full potential," Spicer says.

I cheered when I heard about this program.

On a much smaller scale, I created a mentoring group a couple of years ago with Sarah Stinson, the executive producer of The Morning Show and The Daily Edition at Channel Seven. Sarah is the only female executive producer in charge of 3.5 hours of live TV every weekday.

Together we have 25 young female journalists we meet a few times a year to discuss problems and celebrate successes, and to hear from inspirational guest speakers like mamamia.com's Mia Freedman and Studio 10's Jessica Rowe.

I had some great mentors when I was younger. Helen Grasswill, a producer from Australian Story, took me under her wing and gave me some of the best presenting and producing advice I've ever come across. My old boss at Triple J, Alison Ray, dished out tough love and lots of laughs that certainly shaped my career.

I'll be forever grateful to them and now it's my turn to give back. You get a lot out of being a mentor. A feeling of community. A sense of the bigger picture.

So I was interested to read it's not just in journalism that there is a surge of interest in mentors and role models.

New research from The Westpac Women of Influence Report confirms that Australian women are looking to role models with a bit of integrity.

After surveying 1000 working women aged between 25-65, it found personal connections have a bigger influence on professional women than celebrities. They'd rather get advice from an older female colleague than listen to what popstars are sprouting.

While Australian icons like Ita Buttrose and Governor-General Quentin Bryce top the list of public role models, followed by actress Cate Blanchett and former prime minister Julia Gillard, high-achieving women in entertainment and sports only appeal to a small proportion of professional women (Layne Beachley and Jennifer Hawkins are considerably further down the list).

Overall, the clear finding from the research is that Australian women seem to aspire to be like women they know and respect personally – looking for attributes such as honesty and trustworthiness, good communication skills and respect for others.

Larke Riemer, Westpac's director of women's markets, believes this is a real positive as women are building what she terms "social equity" within their immediate networks as they value influential women they have a personal connection with and can relate to, over celebrity figures.

"What I love from this new younger age group is they are looking for the kind of role models who are well regarded, they are not looking for sports people or celebrities. It's those good business people who have runs on the board and do a lot for their community," Riemer says. "But part of being a good role model is to maintain a high media profile."

Young people don't look to someone who's making a lot of money and not giving anything back. The one true celebrity on the list is actress Cate Blanchett.

"I think Cate Blanchett is a fabulous choice not because she's a great actress but because she's got fantastic business sense, she's classy and well mannered, she never dismisses Australia, she has a fabulous family plus she's passionate about the environment. She's the complete package."

Riemer says young, ambitious women need to be brave. "No doubt you run into leaders all the time who you respect - and think 'gee I wouldn't mind having a chat with them'. Well, email these people. Be direct. Approach them. You'll be amazed how many will help you.

‘‘I think from my experience - and I’ve been working for Westpac for 30 years - I found my mentors at work.  But they may not stay internal, two in particular no longer work there but when I need a sounding board I can still pick up the phone - it’s fabulous. I have some key people who give me some sense of the direction.

"And it doesn't just have to be women mentoring women. I have had male mentors and I have mentored young men. Everyone benefits no matter what the sex."