Doing Authenticity: The Gendered Construction of Authentic Leadership

Helena Liu,* Leanne Cutcher and David Grant
Authenticity has been a focus of much leadership research in recent years. Despite this interest,
there has been a dearth of studies that explore the role of gender in the social construction of
authenticity. To date, authentic leadership theories have tended to be either gender neutral or,
where gender has been considered, it is argued that women as ‘outsiders’ are less likely to be
accepted by their followers as authentic leaders. In this study we examine the media representations
of the CEOs — one male, one female — of two major Australian retail banks during the
global financial crisis. Our approach enables us to show that authenticity is something leaders ‘do’
rather than something they ‘have’ or ‘are’, and that being constructed as authentic depends on the
leader performing authenticity in line with gender norms deemed appropriate for the socially
constructed context in which they are expected to lead.
Keywords: leadership, gender, authenticity, banking, GFC, performativity.

Authentic leadership is often ascribed to leaders who appear well-suited to dealing with the rapid
change, corporate scandals and economic crises that have been part of the business landscape in
recent years (Avolio and Gardner, 2005). Authentic leaders are said to have a deep awareness of who
they are and, as a result, demonstrate a willingness to act upon their core values while transparently
interacting with others (Avolio et al., 2004).Authentic leaders are also said to be guided by an internal
moral compass with their decisions reflecting a high ethical standard (Walumbwa et al., 2008).
Authentic leaders reflecting these attributes seemed to be few and far between during the global
financial crisis (GFC). Indeed, wherever one looked, it appeared that there were leaders, particularly
bankers, behaving badly (Ho, 2009; Hosking, 2012; O’Reilly et al., 2011; Willmott, 2011). Criticism of
these leaders has focused on a hyper-masculinist culture (McDowell, 2010) that encouraged risky
‘cowboy’ behaviours, leading to such laments as: ‘if only it had been Lehman Sisters’ (Morris, 2009,
p. 4). This idea that women make better leaders during times of crisis has been named the ‘glass cliff’
phenomenon, with women being appointed to positions of authority when governments or organizations
face difficult times (Hall and Donaghue, 2013; Ryan and Haslam, 2007).
Given that authenticity is said to be a key attribute of leadership in crisis, the glass cliff phenomenon
would suggest that women are more likely to be considered authentic. However, despite the
growing interest in authenticity, the question of gender and authenticity remains critically underexplored,
with most studies assuming that authenticity is gender neutral (Avolio et al., 2004; Caza
et al., 2010; Endrissat et al., 2007; Walumbwa et al., 2010; Yammarino et al., 2008). We assert that the
need for research into this issue is made all the more apparent when one considers the highly
gendered representations of leaders and authenticity that persist in the media. In this paper, we show
how studying these gendered media representations offers a means by which to contribute to our
Address for correspondence: *Helena Liu, Swinburne University of Technology, Mail H23, John St, Hawthorn, VIC, 3122,
Australia; e-mail: [email protected]
© 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Gender, Work and Organisation. Vol. 22 No. 3 May 2015
understanding of authenticity and its social construction. In studying these representations, we
conceptualize authenticity not as a trait, but as a performance. In order to do so, we draw on the
concept of performativity from gender studies (Angouri, 2001; Bruni et al., 2004; Butler, 1988, 1999;
Fletcher, 2004) and argue that authenticity is not something people ‘have’ or ‘are’, but something
people ‘do’.
To explore the doing of authenticity, we analyse media representations of the CEOs of two of
Australia’s largest banks before and during the GFC: Gail Kelly atWestpac Banking Corporation and
Mike Smith of Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ). We focus our analysis on this
period of time because it is during crises that being authentic is said to take on particular potence.We
adopt a multi-modal media discourse analytic approach because it recognizes the critical role played
by the media in shaping perceptions of social reality (Talbot, 2007). Our analysis shows how being
constructed as authentic depends on the leader performing authenticity in line with gender norms, so
that performing authenticity is also about performing gender.
The paper begins with a review of the authentic leadership literature and the literature on gender,
leadership and performativity. Following this, the research context of the GFC and the Australian
banking industry is introduced before the methods are outlined. Our findings in relation to Kelly and
Smith are then presented, followed by a discussion of the implications of our findings for the role that
gender plays in the doing of authentic leadership.

Authentic leadership and gender
Interest in authentic leadership emerged in response to a perceived need for leaders who can survive
crises with confidence, optimism and resilience, while being adept at fostering follower identification
and trust (Avolio and Gardner, 2005; Avolio et al., 2004; Fernando, 2011; Luthans and Avolio, 2003).
Grounded in positive psychology, authentic leadership theories share two fundamental tenets: the
concept of a ‘true self’ and a connection with ethics and morality (Gardner et al., 2011).
Authentic leaders are meant to have deep self-awareness and to trust their own thoughts, feelings,
motives and values (Kernis, 2003), thereby demonstrating a balanced perception of their own
strengths and weaknesses (Walumbwa et al., 2008). Their behaviour must be consistent with their core
values as opposed to being externally influenced by the desire to please others (Gardner et al., 2005).
As a result, authentic leaders are encouraged to narrate a coherent self to their followers and openly
share their inner thoughts and feelings (Shamir and Eilam, 2005; Sparrowe, 2005).
Authentic leaders are also said to have a strong moral character. Their decisions are guided by
internal moral standards and demonstrate concern for others (Avolio et al., 2004; Hannah et al., 2005;
May et al., 2003;Walumbwa et al., 2010).At the same time, authentic leaders actively solicit views from
others that challenge their own so that their decisions are reached through objective sources of
information (Walumbwa et al., 2010). Authentic leaders do not succumb to external pressures and
instead are driven by internal cues (Avolio and Gardner, 2005; Henderson and Hoy, 1983; Kernis,
2003). Reflecting the essentialist orientation that dominates leadership research, authentic leaders
possess an inner self securely bounded from the exterior world (Ford and Harding, 2011), while
rationally presenting themselves as ‘real’ as opposed to ‘fake’ (Tracy and Trethewey, 2005). Identity is
thus reduced to binaries of inside/outside and real/fake, failing to recognize the ways in which the
self is socially constructed in context (Alvesson, 2010; Carroll and Levy, 2010; Collinson, 2003).
Only in recent years has critical analysis exposed the tensions inherent in the concept of authenticity
(Ford and Harding, 2011; Ladkin and Spiller, 2013). Existential examinations in particular
question the literature’s essentialist treatment of authenticity as a trait that leaders can possess or
acquire (Algera and Lips-Wiersma, 2012; Lawler and Ashman, 2012). According to existentialism,
authenticity is understood as a process of striving to realize one’s consciousness of the situation
(Lawler and Ashman, 2012). From this perspective, authenticity is a process of becoming, where
individuals can never achieve authenticity, but only aspire to it (Algera and Lips-Wiersma, 2012).
Authentic leadership is attributional (Lawler and Ashman, 2012; Sinclair, 2013) and, as such, we
argue that in order for it to be attributed, leaders have to ‘do’ authenticity.We draw on the concept of

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performativity to show that doing authenticity requires leaders to conform to gender norms. Our
approach contrasts with the authentic leadership literature, which assumes that authentic leadership
is gender neutral (Avolio et al., 2004; Caza et al., 2010; Endrissat et al., 2007; Walumbwa et al., 2010;
Yammarino et al., 2008). To date, Eagly (2005) is the only leadership scholar to explore the role of
gender in the construction of authenticity. She argues that authentic leaders are expected to defend
the values and pursue the goals of the group for which they are responsible. Therefore, followers and
the public need to first interpret and accept the leader as a legitimate champion of their collective
interests (Eagly, 2005). Her research shows how female leaders are seen as belonging to an ‘outsider
social group’ and thus face greater difficulty securing their followers’ trust and acceptance as an
authentic leader (Eagly, 2005, p. 462).
While gender is relatively unexplored in authentic leadership research, there is, of course, a
significant body of literature that has explored the role of women in leadership. This research has to
a large extent focused on the relative differences and similarities between male and female leaders
(Eagly and Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001; Haslam and Ryan, 2009; Kanter, 1977; Tomlinson et al., 1997).
Studies of gender differences in leadership styles have posited that women are more participative,
transformational and people-oriented; while their male counterparts are said to be agentic, transactional
and task-oriented (Bass et al., 1996; Druskat, 1994; Eagly and Johnson, 1990; Eagly et al., 2000;
Rosener, 1990). In particular, behaviours associated with female leaders, such as a democratic orientation
and a tendency to seek consensus, are said to make female leaders particularly adept at
managing crises — called the ‘glass cliff’ phenomenon (Mano-Negrin and Sheaffer, 2004; Ryan and
Haslam, 2007; Ryan et al., 2011). For example, Hall and Donaghue (2013, p. 636) point out that ‘of the
five female state premiers in Australia’s history, all were appointed to the position mid-term following
the resignation of an incumbent (male) premier’. Further, their analysis of the media reporting of
Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female Prime Minister, who came to power by seizing the leadership
from the incumbent Prime Minister, found that contrary to earlier studies, it was acceptable for
Gillard to demonstrate ambition but only when that ambition was exercised on behalf of a broader
collective and not for the self (Hall and Donaghue, 2013, p. 643).
By and large, the gender and leadership literature conceptualizes gender as something people
have or are rather than something they do. In many respects, the gendered leadership literature
mirrors the authentic leadership literature in that it reduces gender to prescribed, essentialist characteristics and, in doing so, perpetuates gendered binaries. We suggest that in order to understand just what is happening when men and women are attributed authenticity or are constructed as inauthentic, we need to conceptualize both authenticity and gender as a performance: as something people do rather than have or are. The view of gender as a social practice rather than an innate, biological attribute is grounded in the feminist theory of performativity (Butler, 1988, 1999). Performativity theory sees identity as neither natural nor stable;
but constantly produced and regulated in line with social norms and conventions (Butler, 1993).
Gender is one particular identity that is continually constituted through repeated practice (Butler,
1988). Further, this practice is fundamentally embodied, where bodily gestures and movements
comprise the enactment of the gendered self (Butler, 1988). When performing gender, men and
women can adopt both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ orientations regardless of their bodily identification
with a particular gender (Billing and Alvesson, 2000). This may involve women drawing on
female stereotypes as Ross-Smith and Huppatz (2010, pp. 550–1) found in their study of Australian
senior managers, who drew on ‘feminine dispositions—a feature of women’s habitus—to navigate
the boundaries of a field established by men’.
Men are also constrained in their performances of both gender and authenticity. Fletcher (2004)
has shown that because heroic individualism persists as the exemplar of leadership, men are often
unable to enact relational and communal values. Instead, men are inclined to perform paternalism and
authoritativeness in order to be perceived as a competent leader (Martin and Collinson, 1998).
Johansson (2013) has shown how these gendered role expectations apply to women as well as men
and she argues that, in the end, women may fall back on complying with and thereby reinforcing
masculine stereotypes of what it means to be an authentic leader. Holmes (2006) offers a more
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positive perspective of women leaders adopting normatively masculine strategies in order to perform
some aspects of leadership. She suggests that ‘by appropriating such strategies, women contribute to
de-gendering them and make it clear that they are discursive tools of leadership and not exclusively
of male discourse’ (Holmes, 2006, p. 67).
Holmes’ (2006) work is one of a small number of studies that have focused on the role of discourse
and gendered leadership. Her work has highlighted in particular how ‘both males and females in
leadership positions make use of a range of gendered discursive resources according to their contextual
needs’ (Holmes, 2006, p. 64). Lewis (2013, p. 252) also found in her study of female business
owners that these women constructed legitimate self-identities through both a discourse of professionalism,
normally associated with men, and a ‘discourse of female difference’. Angouri (2001, p.
373) provides a more nuanced understanding of the way in which both men and women draw on
‘normatively masculine and feminine interactional styles’ by highlighting the role of the ‘context of
the interaction and the co-constructed norms of their community’. Katila and Eriksson (2013) also
stress the importance of understanding gender and leadership as relational and as ‘done’ discursively
in relation to a particular context. Exploring the performance of gendered leadership raises the
potential for leadership theorizing and practice to acknowledge gender fluidity (Bowring, 2004;
Knights and Kerfoot, 2004; Linstead and Brewis, 2004). For example, through her analysis of Star Trek:
Voyager, Bowring (2004) shows how discourse can introduce alternativeways of doing leadership that
subvert taken-for-granted normative constraints around gender.
There is now a significant body of literature that has drawn our attention to the way in which
gender is performed (Angouri, 2001; Bruni et al., 2004; Butler, 1988, 1999; Fletcher, 2004) and a
growing body of work that argues that leadership is an embodied performance (Binns, 2010;
McDowell and Court, 1994; Ropo and Sauer, 2008; Sinclair, 2012). It follows then that authentic
leadership also needs to be conceptualized as an embodied gendered performance. Yet, to date the
authentic leadership literature is dominated by studies that assume a disembodied genderless individual
who exhibits a ‘true’, fixed self. Our paper seeks to contribute to the authentic leadership
literature by showing how authenticity is a performance and that performing authenticity requires
leaders to enact and embody gender norms. Our research question is: How do leaders ‘do’
Research context and methods
In order to answer our research question, we undertook a multi-modal discourse analysis of the
media representations of two banking CEOs, one male and one female, during the GFC. Multi-modal
analysis focuses on not just words as texts, but also visuals, and this enables us to explore the way in
which the leaders perform their authenticity for the media as well as the way in which the media
draws on gendered stereotypes and norms to construct the leaders as authentic or inauthentic.
Analysis of these gendered media discourses can, as Angouri (2001, p. 387) argues, ‘shed light on how
gender is constructed, performed, represented and indexed’.
Our analysis focuses on media reports of two banking CEOs prior to, and during, the GFC. In
studying bankers, we are mindful of the importance of context and gender relations. Indeed, it was
a decade ago that McDowell and Court (1994) alerted us to the ways in which gender relations were
changing in this context. They show how over time the spectre of the disembodied, rational banker—
men who are ‘sober and industrious’ and belong to a ‘blue-blooded’ banking dynasty — became
challenged and ultimately replaced by a new breed of banker who embodied youth, energy and
virility (McDowell and Court, 1994, p. 735). In their study, the ‘banking princes’ embodied a ‘raw
intelligence’ and a ‘natural’ aggression associated with ‘heterosexual machismo culture’ (McDowell
and Court, 1994, p. 737). ‘Banking patriarchs’, however, remain important figures in banking discourse;
embodying the authority and credibility of the financial markets (De Goede, 2005). The rise of
a more aggressive masculinity coincides with what has been termed the ‘financialization’ of
the economy (Epstein, 2005; Martin, 2002). Financialization describes the global trend in which
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economies have seen the ‘increasing role of financial motives, financial markets, financial actors and
financial institutions’ (Epstein, 2005, p. 3). The consequence is a hypercompetitive market, where
there is ‘no moment of respite from the exertions of financial activity’ (Martin, 2002, p. 36). The
fixation with money in a financialized world is inextricably linked to the performance of masculinity.
The pursuit of untenable bonuses in the banking sector has been offered by Knights and Tullberg
(2011) as one way in which the GFC was driven by masculinist norms of competition, conquest, status
and success.
The first signs of the GFC emerged in the United States in 2006 when the Federal Home Loan
Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) and the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae)
reported debts of US$1.7 trillion and rising (Sykes, 2010, p. 58). As interest rates rose, the sub-prime
sector collapsed, leading to defaulted debts and foreclosures (Mathieson, 2008). In December that
year, the 85-year-old investment bank, Bear Stearns, reported its first ever loss before being bought
out by JPMorgan Chase four months later (Sykes, 2010). In September 2008, the true extent of the GFC
was felt when over just two days the US financial sector saw the takeover of Merrill Lynch, the
bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, and the government bailout of American International Group
(Mathieson, 2008). Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were also bailed out for US$110 billion by the
government in the same month in one of the largest bailouts in US history (Sykes, 2010, p. 58). Reports
of the dire consequences of the GFC threw some governments into heightened states of anxiety and
uncertainty. Across international print media, the GFC was referred to as ‘a crime’, ‘a meltdown’, ‘a
firestorm’ and ‘[the financial system’s] point of maximum peril’ (De Cock, 2009, pp. 66–9).
Australia’s then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (2009, para. 3) dubbed it ‘one of the greatest assaults
on global economic stability to have occurred in three-quarters of a century’. The Australian media
spotlight was shone on the CEOs of the country’s largest banks, frequently referred to as the ‘Big
Four’. Together, these four banks dominate the retail banking market, controlling 77.4 per cent of the
market share (worth AUD$2.4 trillion) as at September 2010 (Australian Trade Commission, 2011, p.
9).Against the backdrop of the GFC, questions about the CEOs’ authenticity were repeatedly brought
to the fore. On the one hand,Australian banks were posting healthier profits in contrast to most other
countries, yet on the other, they cited rising wholesale funding costs as they raised interest rates
(Verrender, 2009). The banks ultimately emerged from the GFC stronger than when they entered, with
three ofAustralia’s four major banks having expanded their market share by acquiring smaller banks
and taking over the business of non-bank lenders and mortgage brokers (Gluyas and Murdoch, 2009).
At the end of the GFC, the ‘Big Four’ were writing more than 90 per cent of the nation’s new
mortgages, compared with approximately 60 per cent before the GFC (Johnston, 2009a, p. 7). The GFC
in Australia thus offered a rich context against which to explore the media construction of leaders
before and during crisis.
The media exists as a key site on which the ‘shared meanings’ that constitute our culture are
circulated (Talbot, 2007). Utilizing media discourse analysis allowed us to identify how language-inuse
contributes to the social construction of leadership, authenticity and gender. Decisions about
which stories to publish are not made in response to an impartial assessment of a story’s intrinsic
importance; rather, what the wider audience sees, hears and reads in the media is the result of
complex and arbitrary processes of selection and transformation, some of which are unconsciously
practised and sustained (Fowler, 1991). Media discourse analysis in particular recognizes the central
role played by the media in constructing leader identities (Liu, 2010).
For this paper, media articles about the CEOs of ANZ and Westpac were drawn from 16 major
national and state/territory publications. We focus on these two CEOs because they were both
appointed around the time of the GFC’s emergence. Additionally, Smith’s media representations
drew on more normatively masculine discourses than the other two male CEOs of the ‘Big Four’
banks. Articles were collected from the start of each CEO’s tenure, extending throughout the GFC
until the cessation of extensive media coverage about the GFC in June 2010. Data collection was
undertaken over four months from August 2010 by means of the Factiva database. Next, each media
article that was available in the University of Sydney’s microfilm database was scanned from its
original publication. All articles collected from Factiva were analysed in relation to the verbal text,


Leader Bank Tenure Articles Visuals
Michael Smith Australia and New Zealand Banking Group 2007– 130 92
Gail Kelly Westpac Banking Corporation 2008– 136 81

while those available in the microfilm database were additionally analysed in relation to the visual
structures. A total of 266 articles that were identified as containing pertinent information about the
CEOs’ leadership were collected and 173 (65 per cent) of these articles were able to be sourced in their
original visual form. The leaders, time spans of their tenures and number of collected articles and
visual scans are presented in Table 1.
The analysis of the media data comprised four key stages. In the first stage, articles were ordered
chronologically to ascertain convergences in the way the leaders, the bank and the external environment
were constructed in the media at the time. This allowed key events of each CEO’s tenure
to be broadly mapped out by identifying the occurrences in the media data that resulted in a shift
in how the leader was represented. In the second stage of data analysis, the articles were coded for
their references to authentic leadership. The coding of the media data and the identification of
constructs followed an iterative process, driven by both the data and theory. Coding proceeded via
the a priori specification of attributes and behaviours of authentic leaders identified from the literature
(Eisenhardt, 1989). While we acknowledge that these attributes and behaviours cannot be
taken for granted and that they can perpetuate a fixed, disembodied notion of authenticity, we
found them useful, as Holmes (2006) has suggested in relation to gender stereotypes, in providing
a summary of discursive strategies usually associated with normative constructions of authenticity.
This included references to behaviours of ‘confidence’, ‘resilience’, ‘hope’, ‘optimism’ and ‘selfawareness’
as proxies for authenticity. During this stage of analysis, we observed how ways of doing gender pervaded the data. For example, Smith talking about himself: ‘I like to win … I think coming second is sort of a waste of time’ (Jimenez, 2007b, p. 35); and the media’s characterization of Kelly: ‘she’s the mother of all supermums’ (Gosnell, 2008, p. 19). As Holmes (2006, p. 6) writes,
‘ways of talking are associated with particular roles, stances, activities, behaviours and to the extent
that these are culturally coded as gendered … the ways of speaking associated with them become
indices of gender’. With this understanding in mind, we coded the data for ‘feminine’ and
‘masculine’ styles, attributes and behaviours of authentic leaders, while also letting the data speak
for itself (Hardy, 2001). The list of conceptual categories defined from this study is presented in
Table 2.
The increasing importance of visual, as well as verbal representations, in organizational studies
has become widely acknowledged in recent years (Iedema, 2007; Liu and Baker, 2014; Meyer et al.,
2013;Warren, 2010). In particular, visuals are a powerful medium through which the gendered bodily
performances of leaders are enacted (Sinclair, 2012).We follow in the social semiotic tradition, which
is concerned with how the composition of visually and verbally represented people, places and
objects cohere together to construct meaning. In doing so, we adopted Kress and van Leeuwen’s
(1998) multi-modal approach to analysing media discourse, which is specifically designed for the
systematic visual and verbal analysis of newspaper pages. So in our third stage of analysis, we
interpreted the meaning behind newspaper layouts, including the use of graphic elements (e.g.,
photographs, cartoons, figures and graphs), relative saliencies of headlines, pull quotes and captions,
and framing devices, in addition to the verbal text itself (Bell, 1998). In this stage, scanned media
articles were coded using Kress and van Leeuwen’s (1998) framework.
Kress and van Leeuwen’s (1998) approach proposes two broad steps in the reading of a newspaper
page: the first step arises from the assumption that newspaper front pages are complex signs created

Object Categories
Leader Confidence and success
Hope and optimism
Self-awareness and exposure
Moral perspective
Context GFC

to invite the reader to delve deeper into its contents and thus involves an initial reading of the entire
page as one sign. The second step uncovers a deeper, more specific meaning through the ‘signifying
systems’ of the layout (Kress and van Leeuwen, 1998). Examining the signifying systems of the layout
involves simultaneously interpreting the informational value, salience and framing of the text (Kress
and van Leeuwen, 1998).
Information value refers to the placement of features in a layout, which Kress and van Leeuwen
(1998) observed can either situate around a Centre element, where the object placed in the central
position is considered more significant that the Margin elements surrounding it. Alternatively, the
layout could contain polarizing elements where information is contrasted between a vertical (Ideal
versus Real) or horizontal (Given versus New) split. These values are summarized graphically in
Figure 1.
The salience of elements in a layout describes the degree to which it attracts the readers’ attention
(Kress and van Leeuwen, 1998). This can be achieved through a variety of techniques, such as
size, sharpness, contrast, colour, perspective, position in the visual field and cultural significance.
Salience plays a crucial role in providing an aesthetic ‘balance’ in design, which can enhance
certain affective states in its reader and consequently heighten their responses to the message. It
can also embed an implicit hierarchy of importance by presenting certain news stories or elements
as requiring immediate attention. Framing devices refer to the degree to which elements on a
newspaper page relate to one another, in other words, how strongly objects are depicted as connected
or disconnected, which can be conveyed via the repetition of features like colour and shape,
and through the use of vectors (Kress and van Leeuwen, 1998). Kress and van Leeuwen (1998) warn
that continuity can often be exceedingly subtle and only slightly visible between objects that at first
sight appear to be discrete.
Guthey and Jackson (2005) highlighted the symbolic significance of CEO portraits as sites for the
construction of corporate identity. They argue that the analysis of portraits and other visual data of
leaders need to be employed to better understand their role in the social construction of leadership
(Guthey and Jackson, 2005). One prominent aspect of CEO portraits is dress. Warren and Parker
(2009) argue that despite being largely overlooked in identity research, the clothes we wear are so
intimately connected to our sense of identity that they are practically inseparable from it. For these
reasons, in the fourth stage of the analysis, particular attention was paid to the use of CEO portraits.
Here, we drew on Gardner and Avolio’s (1998) dramaturgical framework for the analysis of leaders’

Appointment of Mike Smith
At the time of Smith’s appointment ANZ was performing well, with its share price following a
generally upwards trend and posting the highest annual income growth since 2001 (Gluyas, 2007a).
Despite the bank’s health, Smith used sporting metaphors to position ANZ as a weak, ‘underweight’
athlete (Gluyas, 2007b; Johnston, 2007; Lekakis, 2007; Stevens, 2007b) and himself as the tough trainer
who would ‘coach’ the bank to strength: ‘he is pushing its new management team to deliver a better
performance … the word from the bank’s Melbourne HQ is that Smith is a hard and demanding
taskmaster as he stamps his style on the bank’ (Washington, 2007, p. 28) and ‘hewantsANZ to become
more decisive, to drop the “warm woolly stuff” and get on the front foot’ (Durie, 2007, p. 32).
At the same time, the media drew on his colourful history as the head of HSBC’s Argentine
operations during that country’s economic crisis in the 1990s. Articles relayed how ‘in 1999 in Buenos
Aires, Mr Smith’s car was riddled by bullets in an apparent ambush, although he managed to outrun
his assailants after smashing his blood-splattered car into their vehicle’ (Haynes, 2007, p. 66), even
though he had been ‘shot in the thigh’ (Greenblat, 2007, p. 46). Smith’s perilous experiences, coupled
with his British nationality and interest in the luxury brand of sports car, Aston Martin, shaped the
association between him and James Bond in the media. With headlines such as ‘Banker brings 007
style to ANZ job’ (Greenblat, 2007) and ‘Aston Martins at 007 paces’ (Haynes, 2007), the media
compared the ‘cool’, ‘suave’ and ‘charismatic’ Smith with James Bond (Stevens, 2007a, p. 21). The
media speculated that ‘if Smith’s Argentinian escape was not James Bond-style ‘cool’ enough, he is
not expected to shed a tear as he leaves HSBC for ANZ, having once told a reporter that regrets were
a ‘complete waste of emotions’ (Greenblat, 2007, p. 46). These characterizations emphasized his strong
physicality and portray a hyper-masculine banking image (cf. McDowell and Court, 1994).
Newspaper layouts enhanced Smith’s construction as a change agent, where photographs of him
at his appointment, and usually on his own, would frequently be placed in the most salient position
in Centre-Margin layouts, representing his role as the essence of the message. Invariably, portraits of
Smith were cropped via medium and long shot lengths, emphasizing a more embodied banking
leader. For example, Figure 2 shows Smith staged before a large and vibrant painting. He is dressed
in a full business suit and characterizes a more youthful energy through his pose of placing one hand
in his pocket and standing with a relaxed tilt. The choice of a medium shot frame size, where the
photograph is cropped just above Smith’s knees, further exposes his physicality.

Appointment of Gail Kelly
Gail Kelly was appointed to Westpac in February 2008 just as merger negotiations with Australia’s
then fifth largest bank, St George, began, but it was the bank’s chairman, Ted Evans, who was framed
as the leader behind the merger: ‘it was the sub-prime crisis, and then the collapse in the share
market, that convinced Evans that now was the time to make that move’ (Korporaal, 2008, p. 33). From
the outset, Kelly was portrayed as liaising between the two merging banks, rather than as someone
commanding this initiative: ‘Kelly … knows the business intimately and is the world’s best qualified
executive to meld the two banks into one unit’ (Verrender, 2008, p. 47). Kelly’s role in the merger is
framed more passively and her approach is characterized in relational terms: to ‘deepen and
strengthen that distinctiveness [of] having a range of brands as part of the family’ (Korporaal, 2008,
p. 33).
Under Kelly’s leadership, Westpac was often portrayed as ‘a family’ and the media made frequent
references to Kelly being a ‘mother of four’. Her leadership was ‘family friendly’ and she was said to
focus on customer satisfaction: ‘[Kelly] immediately foreshadowed the introduction of a corporate
culture built on a balance between family needs and career demands’ (Korporaal, 2007, p. 5) and
‘[Kelly] has never forgotten the value of hearing what the customer has to say’ (Hannon, 2008, p. B3).
Kelly’s relationship with her followers was also stressed, where her ‘friendly demeanour and personal
interest in the staff wins her support in the often cutthroat banking industry’ (McCullough,
2008, p. 73). Kelly also emphasized an enduring philosophy about the importance of a work/life

Figure 2: Mike Smith from The Weekend Australian, 29–30 September 2007
Source: Jimenez (2007a), p. 33

balance, proclaiming that she is a ‘big believer in work/life balance [and] the importance of flexibility
in the workplace’, while ‘practices of flexibility and practices of encouraging people to live whole
lives are principles which I have believed in all my life’ (Korporaal, 2007, p. 5).
Visual representations of Kelly enhanced her feminized warm and relational image. Portraits
served to emphasize her ‘feminine’ appearance and dress as colour and contrast highlight her
brightly-coloured outfits and glittering jewellery, while commonly casting her with others in twoshot
frames engaged in an amicable handshake or cheerful laughter. Figure 3, for example, shows
Kelly with Westpac chairman Ted Evans at a café where she appears to be engaged in friendly
conversation with those around her. She leans forward with her palms laid open on her lap; a gesture
that projects warmth and openness. Kelly’s relationship with Evans is highlighted through the
patterns and vectors in the photograph as seen in the repeating polka dot pattern of Kelly’s suit and
Evans’ tie, and the shape of the cushion between them that accentuates their connection.
Doing authenticity
As the GFC progressed, it became apparent that Australia was weathering the crisis better than many
other countries and that its major banks were posting healthier profits than many banks overseas
(Verrender, 2009). All four of Australia’s largest banks maintained their AA credit rating throughout
the GFC (John and Johnston, 2009). This meant that while it was always talked about as a ‘crisis’, the
lack of real impact meant that the banking CEOs and the media could choose how to frame the GFC.
This is significant because the different ways in which the GFC was framed for Smith and Kelly
impacted on how their doing of authenticity was constructed.

Figure 3: Ted Evans and Gail Kelly from The Australian, 17 May 2008
Source: Korporaal (2008), p. 33

Smith during the GFC
At the height of the crisis, the GFC was represented by and for Smith as a dire and urgent situation:
‘Smith recommended a trip to New York or London for those who wanted to experience first-hand
the carnage in banking markets offshore, describing the credit crisis as a “financial services bloodbath”
’ (Johnston, 2008, p. 1), ‘we’re looking at an Armageddon situation’ (Gluyas, 2008a, p. 1) and ‘no
one suggests the carnage is over’ (Saulwick and Ruthven, 2008, p. 23). Smith’s rapid acquisitions of
RBS’s Asian businesses and ING were applauded by the media and framed as reflecting the bank’s
newfound strength and aggressive strategy of international expansion. Metaphors of war were
employed as the media reported on ANZ’s improved financial performance as having the ‘largestwar
chest’ (Bell, 2009, p. 73) and ‘plenty of financial firepower’ (John, 2009, p. 1). Similarly, Smith’s
toughness was emphasized with representations such as ‘a no-nonsense officer cut from HSBC’s elite
corps’ (Johnston and Hawthorne, 2009, p. 1), further enhancing a normative masculine identity.
Portraits of Smith during the GFC were more frequently cropped close-up, emphasizing a rational,
disembodied representation of the male banking leader while underscoring his ambition and determination.
In the example in Figure 4, use of a wide frame and a sign in the foreground partially
obscuring Smith’s face suggests a reflection in a rear view mirror, alluding to Smith’s weakness for
sports cars and his hyper-masculine James Bond identity.
Kelly during the GFC
Unlike Smith, who was able to frame the GFC in ways that suited his expansionary strategy and
reinforced his leadership style, the GFC was constructed by the media for Kelly as fragile and
uncertain. For example, ‘the financial crisis that began with US housing has spread rapidly around the
world is not over, and the ripples are only starting to be felt here’ (Knight, 2008, p. 21) and ‘while the
majors are relatively unscathed so far, the future is not assured, as the bad-debt virus spreads from
large, leveraged corporates to the middle market’ (Maiden, 2009, p. 8). Against such constructions,
Kelly’s leadership was framed as passive and cautious. She was described as adopting an approach
where ‘the new game is risk management first and keeping the house in order while customers are
served’ (Durie, 2008, p. 28) and where ‘judging by her cautious optimism andWestpac’s own figures,
the odds seem to be favouring the view of [heading] off a more painful downturn’ (John, 2008, p. 22).

Figure 4: Mike Smith from Australian Financial Review, 30 April 2010
Source: Drummond (2010), p. 51

In contrast to Smith, who was commended for being a confident man of action, Kelly was applauded
for ‘her nurturing attitude famous in an industry infamous for poor staff relationships and recurrent
waves of downsizing’ (Light, 2009, p. 16).
This construction of Kelly’s leadership changed when she took the decision to raise interest rates
in December 2009 ahead of the other three major banks and the media framed her decision as a rapid
and dramatic response. However, unlike for Smith, Kelly’s proactiveness was constructed negatively
by the media and she was increasingly portrayed as inauthentic as her decisive leadership was seen
as inconsistent with earlier constructions of her as passive and caring. Despite her attempts to reframe
her decisions as having been reached through careful consideration of the factors (Ferguson, 2008;
Gluyas, 2008b; Johnston, 2009b), the media depicted Kelly as vain and greedy; the very image of a
stereotypical banker that shewas expected to subvert. Kelly came to be characterized as ‘flint-hearted’
(Penberthy, 2009, p. 22) and ‘delusional’ (‘Herald Sun editorial,’ 2009), while her decision was
described as an ‘opportunistic move’ (‘Westpac dives at a rate rise,’ 2009, p. 20) that ‘[reinforced] the
bastard bank mythology’ (Syvret, 2010, p. 2). In the example of Figure 5, Kelly is depicted at a home
loan application interview with a couple. A thought bubble on the left shows that the couple is
picturing Kelly dressed as Santa Claus and handing out money in a compassionate and charitable
characterization, while Kelly in the thought bubble on the right is imagining fleecing a sheep. This
cartoon acknowledges the established media construction of Kelly as possessing a strong moral
perspective, yet reconstructs her authenticity in this image as a figment of the public’s imagination.
The cartoon signifies a dichotomy of Kelly’s leadership identity between the exterior and interior and,
respectively, what is ‘fake’ and ‘real’. Verbal texts reinforce this dichotomy with claims that ‘the shine
has finally worn off her personal brand’ (Johnston and Lee, 2009, p. 1), as though her ‘real’ self has
been exposed from beneath her ‘fake’ surface.
The different ways the GFC was constructed in relation to Smith and Kelly highlight how the
economic context is itself a social construct. The GFC was primarily framed for Kelly as an uncertain
and fragile situation that invited a considered and careful response.When Kelly did not behave in this
way, she was criticized and her authenticity was called into question. In contrast, the GFC was
constructed for, and by, Smith as an urgent and dire situation. This construction complemented his
tough and commanding approach and led to him being constructed as authentic.

Figure 5: Gail Kelly from Sydney Morning Herald, 10 December 2009
Source: ‘The fruit of Westpac’s approach to interest rates’ (2009), p. 20

gender stereotypes and norms to construct the leaders as authentic or inauthentic. Specifically, our
analysis of the media representations of Smith and Kelly, the CEOs of two major Australian retail
banks during the GFC, has demonstrated that authenticity should be seen as something leaders do
rather than something they have or are. In answering our research question ‘how do leaders “do”
authenticity?’, our study shows that being constructed as authentic depends on these leaders performing
authenticity in line with gender norms. By showing how the media constructed the two
CEOs in our study as authentic or inauthentic, our findings move us further away from trait-based
explanations of what constitutes authentic leadership. At the same time, they extend recent work that
has shown that authenticity is not something that individuals possess, but is something that is
attributed to them (Lawler and Ashman, 2012; Sinclair, 2013). This attribution of authenticity is not
stable, but is continually constituted through the enactment of embodied gendered leadership
(Butler, 1988, 1999) embedded in a context that itself is discursively constructed.
We show how at the time of their respective appointments, media representations of Smith and
Kelly accentuated normative masculine and feminine leadership styles for the two CEOs. For Smith,
this meant being compared with James Bond and framed as a hyper-masculine change agent. In many
respects he was constructed as conforming to the stereotype of the ‘banking prince’ — raw intelligence,
natural aggression and heterosexual machismo — identified by McDowell and Court (1994)
two decades ago. Doing authenticity for Smith was a highly constrained gender performance of
masculine, heroic individualism (Fletcher, 2004). Conversely, in Kelly’s case, the nurturing, relational
and communal aspects of her leadership were emphasized, allowing her as an ‘outsider’ in the male
dominated world of banking leaders to secure trust and acceptance (Eagly, 2005). She was constructed
as a warm and caring leader whose ambition was exercised on behalf of all working women (Hall and
Donaghue, 2013) as demonstrated through her advocacy of work/life balance. The media drew on a
‘discourse of difference’ (Lewis, 2013, p. 252) so as to enhance Kelly’s feminine identity and suggest
that her authenticity was underpinned by her people-oriented ‘nature’.
In both cases, Smith and Kelly’s gendered performances of authenticity were highly embodied
(Binns, 2010; McDowell and Court, 1994; Ropo and Sauer, 2008; Sinclair, 2012). Smith was constructed
visually and verbally in ways that highlighted his strong physicality. In contrast, Kelly was invariably
featured wearing bright colours and photographed alongside other people. These very different
portrayals of Kelly and Smith, drawing as they did on normative perceptions of male and female
characteristics, led to their being seen to exhibit highly gendered leadership styles and constructed
them as authentic. Doing authenticity meant doing gender in line with stereotypes of what it means
to be a man (independent, strong, active and decisive) and a woman (nurturing, caring, outgoing and
communal) in the Australian context.

In contrast to Holmes (2006), we found that Kelly’s decisiveness did not work to de-gender
discourses that were previously seen as exclusively masculine. Instead, Kelly’s authenticitywas called
into question. This was commonly achieved through the use of cartoons, which offer a medium for
the exaggeration of the negative aspects of the subject and can convey ideas from a ridiculing stance
that may be too crude or offensive if expressed verbally (Bounegru and Forceville, 2011). Indeed, we
have been able to gain deeper insights through the use of multi-modal analysis of media texts that
incorporate verbal text, layout and visuals.We have shown, in line withWarren and Parker (2009), that
visual representations of the banking leaders were not designed to be purely representational (i.e.,
‘this is what they look like’); rather, they interacted with the verbal text to convey a sense of the
leader’s conformity to gender norms, which ultimately impacted the perception that they were doing
authenticity (or not). For example, during the GFC more disembodied depictions of Smith, resembling
a ‘banking patriarch’ (McDowell and Court, 1994) emerged and served to bolster the ANZ’s
credibility and Smith’s authenticity (De Goede, 2005).
It is important to note that it was not just the media that sought to construct Kelly and Smith’s
leadership in line with gender stereotypes, but that both the CEOs also drew on gender norms in
the doing of authenticity (Fletcher, 2004; Hall and Donaghue, 2013). As a number of scholars have
demonstrated, leaders themselves draw on gendered discursive resources in ways that are appropriate
to their context (Angouri, 2001; Holmes, 2006; Lewis, 2013). In the Australian banking
context, Smith performed gender in line with masculine stereotypes of ambition and authority and
capitalized on their association with competent leadership (Johansson, 2013; Martin and Collinson,
1998). Amidst the overarching sense of distrust associated with major bank leaders in Australia,
Kelly’s gender offered her a form of personal capital in her performance of authenticity
(Ross-Smith and Huppatz, 2010). In particular, Kelly’s harnessing of her gender through the life
stories she shared about her role as a mother of four and experiences juggling work and life were
framed by the media as evidence of her authenticity. However, Kelly’s capacity to construct her
leadership as authentic changed during the GFC when she failed to conform to normative
gendered concepts of female leadership. This meant that when Smith acted decisively, he was seen
as being authentic, but when Kelly did the same, she was portrayed as inauthentic. This was in
large part because the GFC itself was constructed differently for the two leaders. In Kelly’s case, it
was framed as an uncertain and fragile situation for Westpac and she was expected to respond with
caution, passivity and care. When she acted decisively and proactively, she was portrayed as inauthentic.
In contrast, the GFC was framed for Smith and ANZ as an urgent and dire situation
allowing him to perform his James Bond style of leadership and to be seen to be doing authenticity
resonant with normative masculine ideals. In line with other studies, these findings show that
context can shape the way in which gendered leadership is constructed (Angouri, 2001; Billing and
Alvesson, 2000; Bruni et al., 2004; Hall and Donaghue, 2013; Holmes, 2006; Katila and Eriksson,
2013; Lewis, 2013). Our study extends this body of literature by showing how gender norms can
also impact on the way in which the context itself is constructed.
In conclusion, this study contributes to our understanding of the social construction of authenticity
by showing how being constructed as authentic depends on the leader performing authenticity in
line with gender norms so that performing authenticity is also about performing gender. Further, it
shows how this gendered performance of authenticity is in fact embedded in a context which is itself
discursively constructed in line with gendered norms. This discursively constructed context shapes
what gender norms are deemed appropriate for leadership. In demonstrating that authenticity is
something that leaders do, rather than have or are, the study shows that authenticity is not a trait, but
an embodied and embedded gender performance.
Declaration of conflicting interests
The author declared no potential conflicts of interests with respect to the authorship and/or publication
of this article.

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or
not-for-profit sectors.
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Biographical notes
Helena Liu is a Lecturer in Organization Studies at Swinburne Business School. Her research critiques
the gendered, racialized and classed nature of how we have come to understand ‘leadership’.
Helena’s work has been published in Leadership, Journal of Business Ethics and Management
Communication Quarterly.


Leanne Cutcher is an Associate Professor in the Discipline of Work and Organizational Studies in
the School of Business at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research explores issues of identity
and agency in relation to gender, space and age in organizations.
David Grant is Professor of Organizational Studies and Senior Deputy Dean at UNSW Business
School, Sydney,Australia. His research focuses on how language and other symbolic media influence
the practice of leadership and organization-wide, group and individual level change. He has published
in a range of peer-reviewed and practitioner journals and is co-editor of the Sage Handbook of
Organizational Discourse (2004).

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