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How speech and language determine success in the workplace

Judith Baxter’s research on the language and appearance of female leaders shows that alpha women are embracing the masculine while skillfully preserving their identities as women. They competitively power-dress while emphasising that they are sexually attractive and feminine.

In her recent research of 10 female and 10 male leaders chairing board meetings in UK FTSE companies, she noticed relatively few gender differences in their linguistic skillsets. She says: “On occasions, women will use authoritative, decisive and goal-driven language that people more typically associate with male leaders. Women will confront their work colleagues, speak directly and assertively, admonish and interrupt long-winded men if they want to make a contribution at a meeting. But they will also frame tough points politely, consider the feelings of others and engage in light banter to make colleagues feel at ease”.

She says that men at the top are also using a much wider linguistic repertoire than they did in the past. Because of the de rigeur requirement for leaders to develop professional skills in “emotional intelligence”, men are keen to demonstrate that they are in touch with their feminine side. But alpha women now have the edge because they constantly think about how they speak.

Judith Baxter says: “My research shows that the majority of women and men still use conventional speech patterns in the traditional gender-divided labour markets: builders will talk macho and women will gossip. Gender expectations on how people talk in traditional work roles remain strong”.

Judith Baxter is professor of applied linguistics at Aston University Guardian Professional, Monday 3 June 2013 08.30 BST


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