Representing Men's and Women's Leadership Styles in Popular Culture: A Discursive Approach

Matthew Sung

University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong


In this paper, I explore the representations of men’s and women’s leadership styles in the debut season of the US reality television show The Apprentice, where sixteen contestants compete against each other in a variety of tasks designed to test their commercial shrewdness in the hope of vying for a top position at Donald Trump's companies. Drawing on the methods of discourse analysis, I examine the leadership styles that male and female contestants employ in ‘doing leadership’, with particular attention to the linguistic devices and discursive strategies that make up their leadership styles. The key questions addressed in this paper include: (a) whether or not men or women are represented and cast more favorably in ‘doing leadership’ as the project managers in the TV program; (b) whether there is a tendency to represent men and women as using masculine and feminine leadership styles respectively; and (c) whether masculine or feminine leadership style is presented as the preferred way of ‘doing leadership’.

The analysis reveals that on the whole the men’s leadership styles are represented and portrayed more positively than the women’s leadership styles in The Apprentice. This portrayal is not only reflected in the selection of particular scenes to be shown in the TV program, but it is also manifested in the comments made by individual participants during the interviews and in the boardroom meetings. It is observed that even though men and women are represented as using stereotypically masculine and feminine speech styles respectively in some situations, such kind of representation is limited to same-sex interactions. There is, however, no tendency to portray men and women as using sex-preferential styles in mixed-sex interactions. This suggests that the use of stereotypically gendered styles is shown to be context-dependent, rather than based on the gender of the speakers. It is also argued that the preferred way of ‘doing leadership’ as shown in the TV show is the use of a ‘wide-verbal-repertoire style’ (Case 1995; Holmes 2000), integrating discursive features from both masculine and feminine speech styles, and that neither the exclusive use of masculine or feminine style is considered the most effective. This seems to de-mystify the conventional association of leadership with masculinity, and re-cast the feminine speech style in a more positive light. It is hoped that the analysis can provide insights into the under-investigated area of the representations of gender and leadership in popular culture, and shed light on the analysis of gender ideology in the workplace, as reflected in the mass media.

Session: Paper session
Gender 1 (Discourse)
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 16