Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to contribute to research on gender and corporate boards of directors by focusing on how female board professionals construct particular notions of accessing and succeeding in boards. Design/methodology/approach ‐ A discursive perspective is offered, based on conceiving gender as something that is "done" in social interaction. In the spirit of critical discourse analysis, the talk of female board professionals, produced in interviews in the Finnish context, is analyzed in-depth. Findings ‐ Two discourses are located in the talk of female board professionals: the discourse of competence and the discourse of gender. It is argued that the discourses constitute a boardroom gender paradox, which is characterized by several contradictory elements. By conceptualizing and illustrating this paradox, the study scrutinizes the elusive ideal of women's large-scale entry into corporate boards. Research limitations/implications ‐ Future studies should make use of the insights developed, and apply them to cross-societal comparative research. Practical implications ‐ For corporate decision-makers, the findings suggest a rethinking of how "competence" is defined and applied. Originality/value ‐ Paradox has rarely been addressed in the literature on gender and corporate boards. Understanding how the women interviewed (re)construct a boardroom gender paradox offers a unique contribution to the literature.