Sociolinguistic approaches to gender and leadership theory

Judith A Baxter

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


This chapter reviews the range of theories that account for the crucial role of language in women’s performance of leadership, as well as the ways women are represented as leaders in the public domain. First, dominance theory proposes that the social nature of language constructs men as more powerful in professional domains and women as less so. Second, difference theory argues that women and men have differently gendered linguistic styles, with men tending to prefer more “transactional” or goal-orientated styles of language and women preferring “transformational” or “change-orientated” styles of language. Third, discourse theory proposes that leaders construct their professional identities through the language they choose to use. However this is not a free choice, especially for women leaders: gendered discourses such as masculinization or image and sexuality can effectively restrict the range of identities that women can “talk into being.” The chapter assesses how women leaders are simultaneously enabled and constrained by the language and discourses of leadership.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Research on Gender and Leadership
Place of PublicationMassachusetts
PublisherEdward Elgar
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Gender
  • Leadership
  • language and gender
  • sociolinguistic theory
  • discourses


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