Research into the existence of gendered speech has tended to concentrate on identifying so-called distinguishing features of male and female communication that fit into our stereotypes of the differences between men and women. Research over the past thirty years depicts masculine and feminine speech as being identified by the following features:


  • direct
  • aggressive
  • competitive
  • autonomous
  • dominates talking time
  • interrupts aggressively
  • task-oriented
  • referentially oriented;


  • indirect
  • conciliatory
  • facilitative
  • collaborative
  • talks less than men
  • has difficulty getting a turn
  • person-oriented
  • affectively oriented

In order to test whether this stereotype actually matched the reality of workplace communication, we studied speech of both male and female managers to see whether there was in fact a systematic difference between them. We found that there was just as much variation between women and women (and men and men) as there was between women and men, and the differences between male and female managing styles were more subtle than the above table would suggest:

At meetings, the chair tends to talk more than any other participant, whether the chair is male or female.

Women, as well as men, when in the position of chair, keep control of a meeting by summarising progress and making sure people agree with what has been decided.
Women are just as likely as men to use imperatives when giving directives

Ginette complains that the team members have not been filling out packing codes correctly:

Ginette: check the case make sure you check them properly cos like I said it's just one person's stupid mistake makes the whole lot of yous look like eggs [pause] check them properly... please fill them out properly fuck yous

Contrary to popular belief, women use just as much humour as men, and use it for the same functions, to control discourse and subordinates and to contest superiors, although they are more likely to encourage supportive and collaborative humour.

The 6am meeting has started late because team members have arrived late:

Ginette: nice to see everybody's here on time

A minute later another team member arrives:

Ginette: good afternoon Sue

Women use the same range of different linguistic devices to give directives as men.

Women managers seem to be more likely to negotiate consensus than male managers, they are less likely to just 'plough through the agenda', taking time to make sure everyone genuinely agrees with what has been decided.

Meeting of 6 women to sort out systems problems:

Lei: I mean we may not be able to find a solution but that I mean you're the people who are in the best situation for knowing that what's your feeling

Later, Leila points out the problems with a suggestion made by one woman Zoe, but she says to Zoe

Lei: you know it may well be that we haven't got quite enough hours but I've got a feeling that we might have the solution within here

In summary, gender does influence workplace communication, but it is not a one-to-one correspondence.


Please see our list of publications on Gender in the Bibliographies section.