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Women and leadership in higher education in China: discourse and the discursive construction of identity

Zhao, J. and Jones, K. (2017) Women and leadership in higher education in China: discourse and the discursive construction of identity. Administrative Sciences, 7 (3). 21. ISSN 2076-3387

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To link to this item DOI: 10.3390/admsci7030021


Prior research indicates that just 4.5 percent of mainland China’s higher educational institution leaders are female. This article extends theory and research by drawing attention to identity and Discourse as an important, yet under-researched, aspect of the problem of women’s underrepresentation in higher education leadership. Drawing on in-depth qualitative interviews with nine female academics in Chinese universities and informed by discursive approaches to identity and constructionist views, we analyze how women construct multiple identities, the interplay of identities, and the influence of broader societal Discourses of gender and leadership. The findings highlight the interplay between competing multiple identities, and illustrate how the women’s identities are shaped and constrained by dominant historical and cultural Discourses in Chinese society, which results in identity regulation (Alvesson and Billing 2009), notably identity positioning that is congruent with social norms and conventions. A key finding is that the female academics reject the leader identity. This is true for those in middle management positions, as well as women in early career stages, who might otherwise aspire to leadership. Implications for the leadership pipeline in China’s universities is discussed and recommendations are made for future research directions.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education > Improving Equity and Inclusion through Education
ID Code:71131
Uncontrolled Keywords:identity; leadership; gender; Discourse; higher education; China; women
Publisher Statement:This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).


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