The UK needs a fresh batch of role models if it is to improve diversity and performance in the workplace, according to the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

A recent survey conducted by the organisation found that many of the figures that provide the greatest inspiration have several things in common: they are predominantly older men and relatively few are from the UK.

Richard Branson topped the poll of inspiration figures, followed by Nelson Mandela. Alan Sugar and Barack Obama also made the top ten, followed by Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Tony Blair and former ICI chief Sir John Harvey-Jones. Just two women made it into the top ten – former prime minister Margaret Thatcher came in third place, while Mother Teresa took eighth position.

Part of the explanation for this bias towards men seems to come from deeply held stereotypes among British workers – men in particular. Eight per cent of men are more likely to think it is important for a role model to be attractive. While more than a fifth of women are more likely to disagree that men make better role models.

Men are seeking role models, but it appears there are relatively few for women. Some 55 per cent of female respondents said that there were not enough female models around for them to aspire to, although eight out of ten believe that having a role model can help to raise aspirations.

“It’s time to redefine and rejuvenate what we think of as an inspiring person,” says Ann Framcke, CMI chief executive. “While many of those named in the top ten have achieved amazing things in their lifetimes, they aren’t necessarily relevant role models who can inspire workers on a practical level in their everyday lives.

“Shouldn’t we be looking to today’s business leaders like Charlie Mayfield and Richard Reed over John Harvey-Jones?”

With this in mind, CMI has proposed a new top ten list of role models for UK workers top look up to. Charlie Mayfield of the John Lewis Partnership and Richard Reed, co-founder of drinks manufacturer Innocent, are among them, as are Sir James Dyson, Paul Walsh, formerly of Diageo, and Lord Victor Adebowale, chief executive of charity Turning Point.

Five women are also on the list, including Karren Brady, Charlotte Hogg of the Bank of England, Severn Trent Water’s Liz Garfield, Carolyn McCall of easyJet and lastminute.com founder Martha Lane Fox.