D. Fortier1, D. Murray2

1Bishop's University (CANADA)
2Loyola Marymount University and California State University Northridge (UNITED STATES)
Women have the potential to excel in leadership positions but little progress is being made when it comes to increasing their numbers among senior positions. Change is needed in the way we approach leadership development (Debebe, Anderson, Bilimoria, & Vinnicombe 2016). Some believe that one the problems is a lack of realistic preparation within university education where the personal and professional challenges women leaders face should be further discussed and where women need training to develop the right skill set (Dhawan, 2012). Indeed, there is a push for transformational learning, one that creates deep changes and discontinuity with previous patterns of interaction and results in increased awareness of problematic habitual patterns (Debebe et al., 2016). Another significant obstacle in preparing women leaders is the lack of a theoretical framework for curriculum development (Ely, Ibarra & Kolb, 2011). In an effort to fill this gap, Ely et al. (2011) offer a framework grounded in leadership identity development so women can benefit from learning to construct and internalize a leader identity, a requirement to the process of becoming a leader. Key topics to be included in such programs include negotiation skills and leading change as well as 360-degree feedback and networking. Though we believe that Ely et al. (2011) identify legitimate problems, we disagree with how to tackle these within leadership training programs. Indeed, we provide a framework from an alternative paradigm, namely from a social construction perspective, and extend this framework into practical applications. The paradigm of social construction (Berger & Luckman, 1967; Burr, 2003) holds that reality is not objective or external to the human experience, rather it is intersubjectively created in the interaction between people in social groups. This movement has been instrumental in founding a constitutive view of organizational communication (Fairhurst & Putnam, 2004, 2015; Poole & McPhee, 2005) that argues organizations themselves are created in discourse, and is part of “the communication perspective,” advocating the value of examining communication directly as the primary social process that makes the social worlds we inhabit (Pearce, 2007). More specifically, this paper argues for the need to further develop curriculum from the perspective of positioning theory, one that looks at how people use words in order to locate themselves and others within their discourse and thus enables them to negotiate their gender-related position in conversations (Harré, & van Langenhove 1999; Hollway, 2001; Moghaddam & Harré, 2010). In short, we believe training should be focused on helping future leaders look at what language they use and the corresponding consequences of using it so they can make judicious choices that result in strong leadership. We argue that we must teach women to be aware of how communication constructs relationships and social worlds, so they may better understand the complexities of their place in the communicative constitution of organizations (Fairhurst & Putnam, 2004; 2015). Grounded in the belief that we construct our own social reality with our discourse, we argue that a curriculum built upon the tenets of positioning theory should not only increase awareness of conversational choices but also enable women to be better skilled when stepping into managerial and leadership positions and so they may better navigate the reality of the workplace.