Leadership through Language: Metaphor and Gender in Entrepreneurial Positioning

Kathleen Ahrens, Yanlin Li

Research output: Unpublished conference presentation (presented paper, abstract, poster)Conference presentation (not published in journal/proceeding/book)Academic researchpeer-review


To what extent do women present their leadership differently from that of men? Previous studies have shown that men and women process conventionally used (conceptual) metaphors differently depending on whether they were congruent or incongruent with their gender-oriented experiences (Elmore and Luna-Lucero, 2017; Borelli and Cacciari, 2019). Previous studies have also shown that women attempt to challenge their roles through a hegemonic co-option strategy in business situations (Augoustinos and Walker,1995; Koller, 2004). For example, when pitching ideas, masculine-oriented WAR/COMPETITION metaphors have been suggested as useful for women when they are trying to convince venture capitalists to fund their ideas. In contrast, men do not benefit from using feminine-construct metaphors. Instead, they also benefit from using source domains consistent with their gender stereotypes (Koller, 2004). However, gaps in understanding remain as to how entrepreneurs use gender-construct metaphors to position themselves as LEADERS and the strategies they use to frame their LEADERSHIP roles. This study extracts the keywords associated with these two metaphorical target domains (i.e., manage(r), lead(er), organize(r)) in media interviews with male and female entrepreneurs from a collection of YouTube videos (e.g., Forbes Leadership series) and podcasts. The study analyzes the positioning of these concepts in terms of their polarity (i.e., positively or negatively framed) and in terms of the metaphorical source domains that they associate with these concepts, such as the (masculine-oriented) WAR/COMPETITION source domain, the (feminine-oriented) PLANT source domain, or the gender-neutral source domain of JOURNEY. We hypothesize that women use more gender-specific and gender-neutral source domains when positioning themselves as leaders compared to men (who continue to engage more frequently with the WAR/COMPETITION source domain), suggesting that women see seeking funding and self-reflection on their leadership roles differently, while for men, the struggle for funding is directly intertwined with their leadership roles.

Augoustinos, M., & Walker, I. (1995). Social Cognition: An Integrated Introduction. London: Sage.
Borelli, E., & Cacciari, C. (2019). The comprehension of metaphorical descriptions conveying gender stereotypes. An exploratory study. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 2615.
Elmore, K., & Luna-Lucero, M. (2017). Light Bulbs or Seeds? How Metaphors for Ideas Influence Judgments About Genius. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 8(2), 200-208.
Koller, V. (2004). Businesswomen and War Metaphors: 'Possessive, Jealous and Pugnacious'? Journal of Sociolinguistics, 8(1), 3-22.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusNot published / presented only - Mar 2024
EventThe 55th Annual Convention of The Northeast Modern Language Association - Boston, United States
Duration: 7 Mar 202410 Mar 2024


ConferenceThe 55th Annual Convention of The Northeast Modern Language Association
Country/TerritoryUnited States


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