Skip to main content

Linguistic gender marking and its international business ramifications

Abstract

We analyze the impact of language-based gender distinctions within languages’ grammatical structures on women’s corporate presence. Using four different data sets, we find that countries where the dominant language marks gender more intensely have significantly lower female participation on boards of directors and in senior management, as well as smaller female-led corporate teams. We also find that the gender marking of the language used in the headquarters’ home country impacts female presence on the subsidiary boards of multinational companies, independently of gender marking in the language of the host country. Our findings suggest that linguistic gender marking offers a superior alternative to the commonly used aggregate values-based measures of culture, and that its research usage should be expanded accordingly. Underpinning this proposed expansion is the very stable nature of language-based gender distinctions, which are inherited from the distant past, and the direct influence of language on cognition via the shaping of the mental representation of social reality. The findings also reinforce the need to view language design as a vital strategic, as well as operational, tool for multinational companies.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Figure 1

References

  1. Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S., & Robinson, J. A. 2001. The colonial origins of comparative development: An empirical investigation. American Economic Review, 91 (5): 1369–1401.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Adams, S., & Flynn, P. 2005. Actionable knowledge: Consulting to promote women on boards. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 18 (5): 435–450.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Barnouw, J. 1979. The rule of metaphor: Multi-disciplinary studies of the creation of meaning in language. The Review of Metaphysics, 33 (1): 200–204.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Boroditsky, L., Schmidt, L., & Phillips, W. 2003. Sex, syntax, and semantics. In D. Gentner, & S. Goldin-Meadow (Eds), Language in mind: Advances in the study of language and cognition, 61–80. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Boserup, E. 1970. Woman’s role in economic development. London: George Allen & Unwin.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Brock, D. M., Shenkar, O., Shoham, A., & Siscovick, I. C. 2008. National culture and expatriate deployment. Journal of International Business Studies, 39 (8): 1293–1309.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Burke, R., & Mattis, M. (Eds) 2000. Women on corporate boards of directors. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  8. Chen, M. K. 2013. The effect of language on economic behavior: Evidence from savings rates, health behaviors, and retirement assets. American Economic Review, 103 (2): 690–731.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Chomsky, N. 1980. Rules and representations. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Christiansen, M. H., & Kirby, S. (Eds) 2003. Language evolution: The states of the art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  11. Corbett, G. G. 2011. Chapters 30–32. In M. S. Dryer, & M. Haspelmath (Eds), World Atlas of Linguistic Structures. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Darwin, C. 1859. On the origin of species. London: John Murray.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Dryer, M. S., & Haspelmath, M. (Eds) 2011. World Atlas of Linguistic Structures. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Emrich, C. G., Denmark, F. L., & Den Hartog, D. N. 2004. Cross-cultural differences in gender egalitarianism. In R. House, P. J. Hanges, M. Javidan, P. W. Dorfman, & V. Gupta (Eds), Culture, leadership and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopedia Britannica 15th edition. Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

  16. Evans, N., & Levinson, S. C. 2009. The myth of languages universals: Language diversity and its importance for cognitive science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32 (5): 429–492.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Fernandez, R. 2010. Does culture matter? NBER Working Papers No.16277, National Bureau of Economic Research.

  18. Freytag, A., & Thurik, R. 2007. Entrepreneurship and its determinants in a cross-country setting. Journal of Evolutionary Economics, 17 (2): 117–131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Givati, Y., & Troiano, U. 2012. Law, economics, and culture: Theory of mandated benefits and evidence from maternity leave policies. Journal of Law and Economics, 52 (2): 339–364.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Grosvold, J., & Brammer, S. 2011. National institutional systems as antecedents of female board representation: An empirical study. Corporate Governance: An International Review, 19 (2): 116–135.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Gupta, A. K. 1987. SBU strategies, corporate-SBU relations, and SBU effectiveness in strategy implementation. Academy of Management Journal, 30 (3): 477–500.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Hall, R. E., & Jones, C. I. 1999. Why do some countries produce so much more output per worker than others? The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 114 (1): 83–116.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Hinds, P. J., Neeley, T. B., & Cramton, C. D. 2014. Language as a lightning rod: Power contests, emotion regulation, and subgroup dynamics in global teams. Journal of International Business Studies, 45 (5): 536–561.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Hofstede, G. 1980. Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Hofstede, G. 1998. Masculinity and femininity: The taboo dimension of national cultures. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G. J., & Minkov, M. 2010. Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind, 3rd edn. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  27. House, R. J., Hanges, P. J., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P. W., & Gupta, V. 2004. Culture, leadership and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Javidan, M., & House, R. J. 2001. Cultural acumen for the global manager: Lessons from Project GLOBE. Organizational Dynamics, 29 (4): 289–305.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Johanson, J., & Vahlne, J. E. 1977. The internationalization process of the firm – A model of knowledge development and increasing foreign market commitments. Journal of International Business Studies, 8 (1): 23–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Johansson, S. 2005. Origins of language: Constraints on hypotheses. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  31. Lambert, R. A., Larcker, D. F., & Weigelt, K. 1991. How sensitive is executive compensation to organizational size? Strategic Management Journal, 12 (5): 395–402.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Luo, Y., & Shenkar, O. 2006. The multinational corporation as a multilingual community: Language and organization in a global context. Journal of International Business Studies, 37 (3): 321–339.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Miller, A. R. 2011. The effects of motherhood timing on career path. Journal of Population Economics, 24 (3): 1071–1100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Moore, G., & Shackman, G. 1996. Gender and authority: A cross-national study. Social Science Quarterly, 77 (2): 274–288.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Mueller, S. L., & Thomas, A. S. 2001. Culture and entrepreneurial potential: A nine country study of locus of control and innovativeness. Journal of Business Venturing, 16 (1): 51–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Rajan, R., & Zingales, L. 1998. Financial dependence and growth. American Economic Review, 88 (3): 559–586.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Sampson, G., Gill, D., & Trudgill, P. (Eds) 2009. Language complexity as an evolving variable. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Santacreu-Vasut, E., Shoham, A., & Gay, V. 2013. Do female/male distinctions in language matter? Evidence from gender political quotas. Applied Economics Letters, 20 (5): 495–498.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Sen, A. 1999. Development as freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Stevenson, L., & Lundström, A. 2001. Patterns and trends in entrepreneurship, SME policy and practice in ten economies. Entrepreneurship Policy for the Future Series, Vol. 3. Vällingby, Sweden: Elanders Gotab.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Tenzer, H., Pudelko, M., & Harzing, A. W. 2014. The impact of language barriers on trust formation in multinational teams. Journal of International Business Studies, 45 (5): 508–535.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Triandis, H. C. 1995. Individualism and collectivism. Boulder, CO: Westview.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Webber, R. H. 1969. Convergence or divergence. Columbia Journal of World Business, 4 (3): 75–93.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Weber, M. 1930. The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Welch, D. E., Welch, L. S., & Piekkari, R. 2005. Speaking in tongues: The importance of language in international management processes. International Studies of Management & Organization, 35 (1): 10–27.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Whorf, B. L. 1956. Language, thought and reality: Selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Wichmann, S., & Holman, E. W. 2009. Assessing temporal stability for linguistic typological features. Munich: LINCOM Europa.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Williamson, O. E. 1975. Markets and hierarchies: Analysis and antitrust implications. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Wright, E. O., Baxter, J., & Birkelund, G. E. 1995. The gender gap in workplace authority: A cross-national study. American Sociological Review, 60 (3): 407–435.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Wu, C., Lawler, J. J., & Yi, X. 2008. Overt employment discrimination in MNC affiliates: Home-country cultural and institutional effects. Journal of International Business Studies, 39 (5): 772–794.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Amir Shoham.

Additional information

Accepted by Mary Yoko Brannen, Deputy Editor, 8 January 2014. This paper has been with the authors for three revisions.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Santacreu-Vasut, E., Shenkar, O. & Shoham, A. Linguistic gender marking and its international business ramifications. J Int Bus Stud 45, 1170–1178 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1057/jibs.2014.5

Download citation

Keywords

  • language
  • gender marking
  • culture
  • logistic regression
  • grammatical structure