Study: The Language of Female Leadership (Judith Baxter, UK Economic and Social Research 2011)
Finding: Women tend to take on apologetic language pattern styles in executive committee meetings.
Note about The Woman Effect Research Index: This study was performed by researchers not affiliated with InPower Women. Our Research Index includes all relevant research to the subject of women, business and power. We do not influence how the research was conducted or reported by the researchers. In our abstracts, we focus on pulling out the most actionable advice for individual women. To suggest additional research we should index, or discuss our choice of abstract focus, please contact us
InPower Insight: Turn powerless language into powerful language and own your place in committee meetings and all areas of leadership and management.
News of note for women in leadership: your language style can help or hinder you in management meetings and all walks of leadership life, depending on how you use it. Learn to use language power to gain greater credibility in every conversation.
According to this study conducted by Judith Baxter (funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council), the language used by both women and men in senior management meetings shows a difference in what Baxter calls “the language of leadership”. It was found when teams contained one woman and the rest were male, women use double-voice discourse or a kind of “linguistic second guessing”. This type of language is used when a speaker addressed the audience in apologetic tones so as not to appear too assertive or confident.
Common among the list of double-voice discourse were phrases such as:
- “I’m no expert but…”
- “I know I’m not the best person to say this but…”
- Correct me if I’m wrong but…”
Baxter found that women were four times as likely to use this type of discourse. Men were more straightforward and direct while women tended to avoid conflict and were more apt to take conflict personally. Women who were less effective with their use of the language of leadership were in some instances seemingly mocked by their male counterparts and would take on an overly apologetic tone, saying this like, “Sorry, sorry, I’m talking too much.”
After listening in on executive committee meetings at seven large multinational companies over the course of this 18 month project Baxter noted that the most effective women, who seemed to master this art of leadership language, were found to have a wide linguistic range. They recognized language as a resource and were aware of how to be able to use both “masculine and feminine- coded language”.
View a Free Webinar given by InPower Women’s Dana Theus reviewing this research and ways you can use it to advance your career.
Career Coaching Tip: Passiveness and apology are appropriate positions to take in some conversations, but they can only work for you if you’re doing it consciously. To learn to change your unconscious language patterns – the ones that are undermining you in many conversations, listen to others around you and to yourself to learn to “hear” powerless, apologetic language patterns. Listening and learning to notice and hear them is the first step to bring them under your conscious control. Once you’re hearing the words and phrases you’re using to unconsciously telegraph a passive or apologetic stance, practice omitting those phrases from your vocabulary. Simply don’t say them. You’ll notice that no one will get on your case for not apologizing, but they will pay more attention to what you’re actually saying. You will be noticed more and, over time, gain credibility with this single language trick. For more resources, exercises and worksheets on this simple but powerful skill, read Language As Power.
Category: Career Advancement
Keywords: Double-Voice Discourse, Language, Judith Baxter, apologize
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