Date of Award

Spring 5-2024

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Whitney McIntyre Miller

Second Advisor

Douglas Havard

Third Advisor

Mark Maier


The underrepresentation of female leaders across various career sectors, especially within higher education institutions (HEIs), has been an ongoing challenge worldwide. Moreover, little has been probed into women’s leadership development within the context of private HEIs in China. This study addresses the gap in academic research by applying a constructivist grounded theory to explore the experiences of women leaders in Chinese private universities. Through interviewing 26 mid- and senior-level women leaders, this study investigates the barriers and facilitators experienced by women leaders in their leadership development journeys within private HEIs in China. The study indicates these women leaders have overcome multifaceted obstacles and achieved mid- to senior-level leadership positions. Specifically, four overarching themes have emerged from the analysis: (1) Advancement Through Education: The study explores how women leaders’ educational backgrounds, including school education and family education, have contributed to their ascent into leadership roles or ascending to higher leadership positions within Chinese private HEIs; (2) Gender-Based Barriers: The study discusses the barriers rooted in gender biases and cultural norms that hinder women leaders’ pursuit and advancement in leadership roles, encompassing challenges derived from various sociocultural, organizational, and individual gender-based barriers; (3) Facilitators: The study highlights the

significance of external support networks and personal strategies in facilitating women leaders’ progression in their leadership journeys within private HEIs in China; and (4) Encouraging Future Leadership of Other Women: The study identifies strategies for women leaders to inspire and encourage other women to enter into leadership roles or to advance in their careers within private HEIs. By elucidating the complex interplay between barriers and supports in women leaders’ leadership development trajectories, this study contributes to a deeper understanding of

gender dynamics within private HEIs in China. The findings underscore the need for proactive measures to address systemic inequalities and create inclusive environments that empower women to thrive in leadership roles. It has profound implications for the Chinese government, private universities, women leaders’ families and friends, women leaders themselves, and women with leadership aspirations at private HEIs.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Available for download on Sunday, May 10, 2026