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Keywords:

  • Gender;
  • leadership;
  • role traps;
  • agency;
  • voice;
  • discursive resources;
  • subject positions

This paper reconceptualises a classic theory (Kanter 1993[1977]) on gender and leadership in order to provide fresh insights for both sociolinguistic and management thinking. Kanter claimed that there are four approved ‘role traps’ for women leaders in male-dominated organisations: Mother, Pet, Seductress and Iron Maiden, based on familiar historical archetypes of women in power. This paper reinterprets Kanter's construct of role traps in sociolinguistic terms as gendered, discursive resources that senior women utilise proactively to interact with their predominantly male colleagues. Based on a Research Council funded1 study of 14 senior leaders (seven female and seven male) each conducting at least one senior management meeting in the U.K., the paper finds that individual speakers can transform stereotyped subject positions into powerful discursive resources to accomplish the goals of leadership, albeit marked by gender.