Symposium on: Diversity and Power at Work

On 2nd November, 2016, the Department of International Business Communication and the CBS Public-Private Platform’s cluster on Diversity and Differences are hosting a half day symposium.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - 10:00 to 13:00

This half-day symposium focuses on diversity and power in the workplace and in everyday life.  The three speakers explore different aspects of the connection between diversity and power, including looking at how macro level discourses about language and culture interact with workplace practice in a culturally and linguistically diverse setting; investigating how linguistic choices in the public sphere is connected with discomfort and discrimination; and focusing on how gender stereotypes correspond to workplaces practices. As such, the symposium brings together research from sociolinguistics, diversity studies and immigration studies to explore how linguistic, cultural and gender diversity is intrinsically linked with power structures and power struggles.




  • Meredith Marra, Victoria University of Wellington: Winning an unrecognised battle: The impact of the 'culture order' on workplace discourse
  • Elizabeth Benedict Christensen, Copenhagen Business School: When language causes discomfort in everyday life: The case of 1.5 generation undocumented youth in the US


  • Coffee break


  • Hans Jørgen Ladegaard, Hong Kong Polytechnic University : Gender, power and control: Stereotypes and facts about male and female leaders in the workplace


Participation is free of charge. Everyone is welcome, but please register here.

For more information, please contact Dorte Lønsmann


Abstract: Meredith Marra

Winning an unrecognised battle: The impact of the 'culture order' on workplace discourse

Meredith Marra
School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies
Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand
In many societies the relative status of different social and cultural groups results in hegemonic relationships or an “order”. This manifests itself as sets of taken-for-granted, unmarked societal norms or ideologies which influence behavior, including linguistic behavior. Holmes (in press) labels this concept the “culture order”, drawing a parallel to the “gender order” (as described by Connell 1987) and its inherent hierarchies relating to the role of men and women in society. In this paper I aim to expose assumptions about relative power in the workplace setting by focusing on the influence of these orders.

To exemplify the impact of the culture order in particular, I draw on data collected in Māori-oriented workplaces in New Zealand, where Pākehā (i.e. New Zealanders of European, mainly British, descent) norms dominate. By reflecting on the experiences of the Pākehā group members in contexts where minority Māori norms prevail, my goal is to provide evidence of society’s unwritten and often unrecognised rules. The analysis makes use of (1) interviews in which participants reflect on the role of culture and their outsider status and (2) naturally-occurring workplace interactions in which participants’ awareness of societal ideologies is inferable from their everyday talk. When Pākehā are in a minority they unavoidably confront the challenges of culturally different ways of doing things at work. Constructing a convincing and appropriate workplace identity in such a context requires constant discursive work, with attention not only to the communicative practices of the specific workplace team to which they belong, but also to the ethnic norms or tīkanga Māori which characterise their Māori place of work.

Meredith Marra is Head of the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington where she teaches sociolinguistics and Discourse Analysis from first year to PhD level. She has been researching aspects of workplace discourse for close to 20 years and is Director of the Wellington Language in the Workplace Project.  Her primary research interest is the language of business meetings, but she has also published in the areas of power, (im)politeness, humour and aspects of identity (especially gender and ethnic identity) in the Journal of Pragmatics, Language in Society and Text & Talk. Meredith is co-author of Leadership, Discourse, and Ethnicity (OUP, 2011) with the Language in the Workplace team, and co-editor of Constructing Identities at Work (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) and Negotiating Boundaries at Work (EUP, 2017).


Abstract: Elizabeth Benedict Christensen

When Language Causes Discomfort in Everyday Life: The Case of 1.5 Generation Undocumented Youth in the US

Elizabeth Benedict Christensen
Department of International Business Communication
Copenhagen Business School

In this paper, I draw on qualitative, empirical research with 1.5 generation undocumented youth in the United States to examine how they experience and cope with sense of belonging in everyday life. Specifically, I look at the relationship between language and sense of belonging in everyday scenarios to examine how linguistic ability and language choice influence sense of belonging. I find that due to past negative experiences of discrimination or discomfort, some youth purposefully avoid speaking Spanish in the public sphere. While this demonstrates that they are active agents in maintaining their sense of belonging, this also illuminates a trade-off for youth: while mitigating potential discomfort, this also results in challenged or limited communication amongst family members.

Abstract: Hans J. Ladegaard

Gender, power and control: Stereotypes and facts about male and female leaders in the workplace

Hans J Ladegaard
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Anecdotes about male and female leaders in the workplace abound. In the press, in public opinion, and even in the academic literature, female leaders are believed to be (more) indirect in their management style, people-oriented, soft-spoken and considerate. Male leaders, on the other hand, are typically portrayed as (more) direct, task-oriented and verbally aggressive. However, when we look at how men and women actually behave in the workplace when they are doing ‘being a leader’, there is little evidence in support of the popular stereotypes. Or, perhaps more accurately, the evidence is inconclusive. Male and female leaders alike usually adopt normatively male and normatively female management styles when they talk in the workplace, and linguistic choices seem to be based on contextual needs and demands more than anything.
In this talk, I present excerpts from a number of research projects I have been involved in Asia and Europe over the years. The evidence suggests that, irrespective of context, leadership is first and foremost about power and control, but this may be voiced out/stated directly in some contexts, and in very subtle indirect ways in others. I argue that contextual and socio-cultural norms are essential in terms of determining what is ‘appropriate’ leadership behavior. I also argue that gender-appropriate leadership styles are not universal, and if we think it is possible to determine what a female management style looks/sounds like, it is because the research is heavily biased towards Western/Anglo-American norms and workplaces.
Finally, I argue that future research on leadership and gender needs to pay more attention to workplace talk in non-Western contexts. The normatively male and female management styles that we often come across in Western contexts do not necessarily apply elsewhere, so any model of gender and management style that we may want to propose must pay more attention to socio-cultural norms.


The page was last edited by: Public-Private Platform // 10/08/2019