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‘I'm competitive with myself’: A study of women leaders navigating neoliberal patriarchal workplaces

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Sharon MavinORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


This paper investigates how women leaders in the UK negotiate claims of being competitive by internalizing competition. Competition is a critical component in neoliberal contexts yet its gendered implications are under researched. Through analysis of 18 women leaders’ narratives who directly characterize themselves as ‘competitive with myself,’ we theorize how and why competition is directed at the self. We understand articulations of ‘I’m competitive with myself’ as a discursive strategy which functions in the narratives in three interconnected ways. ‘Competitive with myself’ vs. ‘competitive with others’ explains how women leaders internalize competition by rejecting competition with others, and distancing from the conventional notion of zero-sum game competition. ‘Competing with myself for perfection’ and ‘Competitive with myself as a protective shield’ explain why women leaders internalize competition – to perfect the self and navigate the double standards of a gendered neoliberal workplace. We argue that ‘competitive with myself’ as a discursive strategy enables women leaders to openly claim competitiveness, (an undesirable performance for women) and simultaneously distance themselves from it. The study contributes understandings of competition as gendered under neoliberalism and in patriarchal men-dominated leadership roles and workplaces. Through a nuanced discussion of women leaders’ narratives we identify both obligation to compete and a possible flexing of gender norms in relation to competition.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mavin S, Yusupova M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Gender, Work & Organization

Year: 2023

Volume: 30

Issue: 3

Pages: 881-896

Print publication date: 01/05/2023

Online publication date: 22/11/2022

Acceptance date: 29/10/2022

Date deposited: 22/11/2022

ISSN (print): 0968-6673

ISSN (electronic): 1468-0432

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd


DOI: 10.1111/gwao.12939


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