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Selected Research Project
 
Project Title Gender and Leadership: Life Histories of Female and Male Primary School Principals in Hong Kong
 
Principal Investigator Dr. Chan Kit Wa, Anita
 
Area of Research Project
Educational Leadership, Policy and Administration
 
Project Period
From 1/2010 To 12/2011F
Objectives
  1. Provide a holistic, comprehensive, and relational understanding of the experiences and identities of primary school principals;
  2. Analyze and understand the similarities and differences between women and men in managing and leading primary schools, which is traditionally considered a feminized workplace and profession;
  3. Explore the possible reconfigurations of gender relations in Hong Kong via a close examination of the teaching profession; and
  4. Provide a deeper and culturally specific understanding of the changing discourses and experiences of school leaders in Hong Kong in order to facilitate further cross-cultural comparisons.
 
Methods Used
The project conducted 32 life history interviews with 8 female and 8 male experienced principals, amounting to nearly 80 hours of interviews and 1,000 pages of typed transcripts.
Summary of Findings
  • The operation of patriarchy in the lives of female principals was evident because most experienced greater economic and family pressures in their growing up experiences compared to their brothers and male peers. Meanwhile, although subtle forms of sexism might exist in the occupation of primary teaching, most female principals felt that their career trajectories were smooth and unaffected. On the whole, all principals felt that gender relations have been equalized in Hong Kong, even though women principals tend to shoulder more family-care responsibilities at home.
  • Female and male principals clearly used different discourses to explain their career success. Although both attributed their success to “hard work,” male principals also presented themselves as “aspiring,” “achieving,” and “strategic”, whereas women described themselves as “obedient,” “disinterested in promotion,” and “being encouraged.” We suspect that the existence of these different discourses of success explains why women principals tend to work longer hours than men.
  • Both female and male principals asserted the existence of gender differences in school leadership and management. They subscribed to the view that women are more meticulous, whereas men are broader and more direction-oriented. However, these differences were also presented in hierarchical terms, with the masculine style of leadership being seen as more desirable than the feminine style of management. A more interesting point is that women principals were also quick to distance themselves from the “negative” qualities associated with the feminine style of management, and asserted that their style was closer to the masculine ideals.
  • We identified several positive structural and institutional factors before 2000 that facilitated women’s ascendency to leadership positions. The political uncertainty of Hong Kong’s future after 1997 led to the exodus of mid-level professionals in Hong Kong, primary school principals included, who vacated leadership positions. The development of new towns from 1970s to 1990s and the project of building millennium (big) schools created new job opportunities, especially senior positions, for teachers. The practice of dual-session schools before 2000 also allowed women teachers to combine work and family demands. Unfortunately, these positive factors no longer existed, or became less favorable, by the twenty-first century. Worse still, less favorable developments in the last decade, such as the intensification of educational reforms and mothering ideology, may have hampered women’s career development. We are not optimistic that younger women principals would be able to combine work and family as easily as do the older female principals in our study.
  • A new demand on school principals in the 21st century who are expected to actively cultivate social capital has become evident. Our school principals, male and female, clearly show that effective schools leaders in Hong Kong in the twenty-first century need to branch out to the community, broaden their horizons, border-cross to non-education sectors, and foster closer links with the mainland schools.
Impact
  • The rich discussion regarding the life histories, career trajectories, values, and struggles of experienced leaders will offer insights to prospective leaders and will be useful for leadership training.
  • The effective strategies employed by experienced principals in promoting school culture, learning communities, and effective management will provide useful ideas towards the discussion and promotion of effective leadership.
  • Analyses of the experiences, discourses, and identities of male principals will contribute to the rarely studied fields of gender and leadership, and masculinity.
  • The comparisons of the experiences of male and female school leaders will provide insights into understanding the (gendered) nature and culture of school organizations, the teaching profession, and the possible reconfigurations of gender relations in Hong Kong society.
Selected Publications Related to the Study
  • Chan K.W. Anita, Ngai S.K. George, Choi, P.K. (2014) Contextualizing the career pathways of women principals in Hong Kong: a critical examination, Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03057925.2014.884919

  • Chan K.W. Anita (2014) Making Sense of their Career Pathways: The Work Narratives of Women Primary School Principals in Hong Kong, in Marie-Pierre Moreau (ed.) (In)equalities in the Teaching Profession: A Global Perspective. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 157-178.

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Biography of Principal Investigator
Dr. Anita Kit-wa Chan attended The University of Hong Kong for her undergraduate and master's degrees, before winning the Sir Edward Youde Memorial Fund Fellowship to continue her studies at Essex University, England. Her Masters and Ph.D. studies investigated the gendered identities of young girls and primary school teachers in Hong Kong. She was awarded the Research Leader Award by the Women's Foundation in 2009 and the Excellence in Teaching Award by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for the year 2009V2010. Her research interests include the investigation of family changes in Hong Kong, the life histories of school leaders, the gender identities of young girls and boys, and cross-border families and students.
General Research Fund
General Research Fund