Discourses of female leadership – Finnish business media before and after Sanna Marin

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School of Business | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Management and International Business (MIB)
Leadership is a topic that evokes emotion and sparks discussions both privately and publicly. Ever since Sanna Marin became the Prime Minister of Finland on December 10th in 2019, Finland’s female-led government has gained an unprecedented amount of media attention. Despite the obvious progress made in gender equality, vertical segregation between genders persists in Finnish working life. Since the media reflects and contributes to the construction of our social reality, it acts as the perfect vantage point to examine how female leadership is represented and perceived. The purpose of this thesis is to explore the Finnish business media’s portrayal of female leadership before and after Sanna Marin took office as the Prime Minister of Finland. It strives to identify discourses of female leadership and see what kind of meanings they construct. The aim is to also compare these discourses, and ultimately to determine whether the attitude towards female leadership has shifted in Finnish society. The research is qualitative in nature and is based on social constructionism. Critical discourse analysis is used as a research methodology to examine how meanings are created through language and to address social inequality. The research material consists of 27 articles that discuss women leaders, published in Kauppalehti Optio and Talouselämä between 2018 and 2022. 15 of the selected articles were released prior to December 10th, 2019, and 12 articles after December 10th, 2019. According to the analysis, the media creates diverse and even contradictory images of female leadership. A total of six discourses are identified: the ideal leader, the people-centric leader, the gender-blind go-getter, the private person, the modern woman and the belittled survivor. The results show that the media still portrays masculinity as the leadership norm and that stereotypical characterizations of women leaders continue to take place. At the same time, however, the analysis shows that attitudes towards female leadership have changed during the past few years - possibly partly due to Sanna Marin’s influence. There appears to be a slight shift from gender blindness to gender awareness, which in turn allows traditional gender role expectations and stereotypical perceptions of female leadership to be challenged. Women leaders are no longer only presented according to stereotypical views that make them subordinate to men leaders. Instead, today’s media representations of women leaders both repeat and deconstruct traditional notions associated with female leadership.
Thesis advisor
Hwang, Seonyoung
leadership, female leadership, women, gender, discourse, media
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