Gender and Language, Vol 2, No 2 (2008)

Is it all tough talking at the top? A post-structuralist analysis of the construction of gendered speaking identities of British business leaders within interview narratives.

Judith Baxter
Issued Date: 10 Jun 2009


This paper uses a feminist post-structuralist approach to examine the gendered identities of a sample of British business leaders in Britain. While recent national surveys offer many material reasons why women are acutely under-represented as business leaders, the role of language is rarely addressed. This paper explores the ways in which ten senior women and men construct their sense of leadership identities through the medium of interview narratives. Drawing upon two poststructuralist models of analysis— Derrida’s (1987) theory of deconstruction and Sheldon’s (1992) concept of double-voice discourse, the paper shows how both females and males are able to shift pragmatically between interwoven corporate discourses, which demand competing cultural allegiances from one moment to the next— allegiances constantly tested by the rapid change and uncertainty that characterises global business.

However, while male leaders experience a relative freedom of movement between different cultural discourses, female leaders are circumscribed by negative and reductive representations of female speech and behaviour. In sum, senior women are required constantly to observe, review, police and repair their use of leadership language, which potentially undermines their confidence and authority as leaders.

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DOI: 10.1558/genl.v2i2.197


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