IF WOMEN want to get ahead in the workplace, donât they have to be more like men ÷ in particular, like the 495 men who are CEOs of the top 500 corporations in the U.S.?

It seems a pragmatic way to climb to the top because the numbers show it obviously works. But a new study suggests there may be another route.

In fact, stereotypes about women having to become ãmen in suitsä may finally be changing, according to a study on womenâs leadership by Wellesley Centres for Women at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and the Winds of Change Foundation in California.

The study is based on interviews with 60 U.S. female leaders, ranging in age from 30 to 70 years. And itâs clear that they got ahead by being themselves, not by emulating men in every detail ÷ and especially menâs way of speaking.

ãWomenâs comfort in leadership roles can be seen in the female language they bring to describe their leadership practices,ä said Sumru Erkut, co-author of the report and an associate director and senior scientist at Wellesley.

One of my favourite findings is that the notion of motherhood can have added value in the climb to the top, rather than automatically having a negative impact on womenâs career advancement.

Motherhood hasnât been too helpful in the past: Remember the ãmommy track,ä which consigned employed mothers to second-class status when it came to good assignments and promotions? I hated that concept. Now motherhood might have improved status on the job.

And if youâre as sick as I am of constantly hearing tough, masculine terms as the only metaphors for the workplace ÷ even the more innocuous ones such as ãyou know the drillä and ãgoing the whole nine yardsä are beginning to get on my nerves ÷ youâll be happy to learn that female leaders eschew them.

Instead, they have a new framework, one that relates to events in womenâs lives ÷ including motherhood.

For instance, according to Erkut, instead of advising female wannabe executives to use male expressions, the participants in the report ãspoke of Îmotheringâ as both a training ground for leadership and a metaphor to describe leadership behaviour.ä And they were being practical, not maternal, when they advised executives to be inclusive and nurturing instead of autocratic.

Ekrut says that change ãsuggests that some women are secure enough in their leadership positions to bring language from their lived experience as women to describe what they do.ä

Itâs about time, and hopefully, this insightful speech will help create a more equitable workplace ÷ especially in the executive suite ÷ for women.

Yet even though this one big step for womankind is now being taken, some of the old problems persist: Other studies show that a majority of mother and fathers still believe itâs much better for the family if Dad is employed and Mom takes care of the kids. And there still are many people, among them employers, who donât think women with small children should work full time, even though so many of them do, either by choice or necessity.

Of course, neither of these beliefs come into play when government policies, many of them hypocritical, are created for women previously on welfare: Then, it seems, itâs okay for mothers with small children to work outside the home, no matter what.

But since language shapes our reality, I think itâs wise to look at the terms associated with balancing work and family responsibilities and to try to analyze just what role gender plays. According to my own personal survey, hereâs the gender the public ÷ still ÷ associates with basic work/life balance terms.

The Family and Medical Leave Act is for women; business trips are for men. Flexible hours are for women; coaching kidsâ sports is for men. Staying home with a sick child is done by women; being part of the old boysâ network is for men. Elder care is done by women; managers are men. Child-care providers are women; CEOs are men.

And the term ãdaddy trackä doesnât even exist ÷ yet.