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Mid-career academic women in higher education in China: barriers and strategies

Zhao, J. (2022) Mid-career academic women in higher education in China: barriers and strategies. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00111478


Women’s employment rates in China are amongst the highest in the world; however, only a relatively small proportion of these women ever rise to senior leadership positions (Attane, 2012). A similar pattern can be seen in higher education (HE). Although nowadays women serve as president and senior managers at universities and many women have engaged management roles, relatively few make a break through the so-called ‘glass ceiling’ into senior leadership (Sheng, 2009). From past decades, China has gone through radical social change and scholars have begun to draw attention to female leadership in the Chinese context, but there is limited research on women and leadership in HE. Therefore, this research seeks to examine the career paths, experiences and aspirations of women in mid-career academic roles, since that is a career stage where the ‘glass ceiling’ appears to present a barrier to further career progression. Underpinning this study is an analytical framework which incorporates four main themes, which are the gender theory, women and leadership theory, the research economy, and the concept of career capital. Following a sequential mixed methods design, both quantitative and qualitative methods were employed, beginning with an online questionnaire with a sample of 391 mid-career academic women working in Chinese higher education. This was followed by semistructured interviews with 16 women. Quantitative data were analysed using descriptive and multivariate statistics in SPSS. Qualitative data were analysed thematically and triangulated with the quantitative results. This research has analysed the internal and external barriers and difficulties that present to their progression to senior leadership positions in higher education. The findings suggest that the major barriers in mid-career academic women’s promotion in China were the pressures from promotion requirements, especially the requirement for publications. This research provides a critique of the way that academic success has become increasingly tied to metrics and indicators. The findings contribute to the field of women’s educational leadership studies. The findings have important implications for education policy makers and university leaders.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Jones, K.
Thesis/Report Department:Institute of Education
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education
ID Code:111478
Additional Information:Redacted version. Parts removed for data protection reasons are: Appendix 3, parts of Figure 4.2 and parts of Appendix 8


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