Gender, Language and Leadership: Enabling Women Leaders

Judith A Baxter

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Women leaders in the workplace are a comparatively recent phenomenon, and because of their minority position, women continue to experience a range of barriers to their career progression. Many sociological, psychological and economic reasons have been explored to explain women’s lack of progress in ‘breaking the glass ceiling’, but hitherto, there has been little research exploring the possible sociolinguistic reasons, and providing practical solutions.
This chapter review the range of theories which variously explain the role of language in constructing barriers for women who aspire to leadership in the workplace. Dominance theory suggests that the social nature of language constructs men as more powerful and women as less so. Difference theory proposes that men and women evolve within different subcultures with men expected to be more competitive and goal-orientated, and women expected to be more cooperative and people-orientated. Both these theories assume that women’s socialized speech styles make them fundamentally unsuitable for leadership. Finally discursive or performativity theory, suggests that both female and male leaders can draw equally on a linguistic repertoire of resources normatively coded masculine and feminine. However, the presence of disempowering, gendered discourses in organizations can militate against women’s access to, and performance of senior roles.
By taking up performativity theory, I will argue that women can be empowered to access and perform leadership in more diverse, dynamic and challenging ways. I will present applied examples from the work of language and gender scholars such as Holmes (2006), Angouri (2011), Louise Mullany (2007) and my own (2010; 2014), to show how we can intervene to raise women’s awareness of the sociolinguistic strategies they can use, and the effects such strategies can achieve in the workplace.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Language in the Workplace
EditorsBernadette Vine
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameRoutledge Handbooks


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