Findings From Research

Key findings were:

1. Leaders recognised as ‘effective’ by their colleagues, whether male or female, use a broadly similar range of linguistic strategies. However, whereas men using linguistic strategies coded ‘feminine’ (such as listening or complimenting) are deemed to be ‘emotionally intelligent’, women using strategies coded ‘masculine’ (such as confronting or criticising) are deemed to be ‘scary’ or ‘aggressive’. This can create a prejudice against ‘strong’ women at boardroom level.

In their concern not to appear ‘aggressive’, many senior women may double-voicing: the ability to ‘second guess’ colleagues’ agendas and respond pre-emptively in order to soften the effect of their utterances. This can be manifested as self-deprecating humour, apologies, qualification, and so on. Double-voicing can undermine senior women’s personal authority in some contexts, but in others, provide linguistic expertise in managing colleagues. See the journal Discourse & Communication (Baxter 2011).

2. Many women leaders utilise aspects of ‘archetypal’ roles: the mother, the iron maiden, the Queen Bee, but these should be reconceptualised critically as ‘discursive resources’ rather than as essentialist attributes. However such resources do indicate a defensive strategy senior women have to utilise in a male-dominated business world. See the Journal of Sociolinguistics (Baxter 2012).

3. Women and men leaders use humour in different ways. Whereas male leaders use humour to manage their teams routinely, women tended to use humour less frequently. While men’s humour tended to consist of mock-abuse, banter and witticisms, often at the expense of colleagues, women’s humour was more self-deprecating. Baxter theorises that men see humorous women as either threatening or less serious, so women tend to avoid it. Men are part of the management tribe, in which humour is important for professional bonding. Women are not accepted as part of the leadership tribe so are less entitled to use humour to perform leadership. See The Daily Telegraph article, 2012.