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Jostling Discourses of Competition: Women Leaders Self-Positioning

Mavin, Sharon; Yusupova, Marina


Sharon Mavin


This study addresses the lack of research into social processes of competition in organizations and explores women leaders self-positioning in relation to the discourses of gendered competition and neoliberal competition. The discourses carry contradictory obligations for women. While the gendered competition discourse socially punishes competitive women, the neoliberal competition discourse expects competition. Through a feminist approach and Critical Discourse Analysis of narratives from 52 women leaders we make two central contributions. First, we outline how the two discourses jostle together, fighting for attention and contradicting each other, provoking social ambiguity. We demonstrate how the women leaders adopt paradoxical self-positioning as ‘competitive - not competitive’ using four interconnected strategies of ‘Denying’, ‘Masking and Reframing’, ‘Moving On’ from, and ‘Diverting’ competition. Second, we extend studies of liminality and theorize how the discourses create liminality for women leaders. We elucidate how the women take up and disrupt the discourses by continually oscillating in-between paradoxical positions of being competitive, perceived as competitive, not competitive, no longer competitive, and competitive for organizations. Competition is identified as a toxic, gendered process, which is both harmful and aspirational, and both a liminal challenge and opportunity for women leaders. We extend understandings of those who experience liminality in organizations, to women leaders and demonstrate how their paradoxical self-positioning affords them opportunities to discursively present as competitive.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 17, 2023
Online Publication Date Feb 20, 2024
Deposit Date Feb 25, 2024
Publicly Available Date Mar 8, 2024
Journal Organization Studies
Print ISSN 0170-8406
Electronic ISSN 1741-3044
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Women Leaders, Competition, Discourses, Positioning, Gendered competition Neoliberal competition, Liminality, Ambiguity, Gender, Feminist Approach
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Jostling Discourses of Competition: Women Leaders Self-Positioning (accepted version) (838 Kb)

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