How Gender Inequality Shapes Female Expatriates’ Experiences and Perceptions in China: How Danish Female Expatriate Managers Experience and Perceive Gender Inequality and/or Discrimination When Working in Mainland China

Bolette Jeanette Wredstrøm

Student thesis: Master thesis


Globally, in recent years, it has become easier than ever to move and work internationally. This has not only generated cross-cultural interactions but also opportunities to influence and be influenced by divergent cultural norms, values and behaviors. Expatriation has been one of the main pioneers towards this phenomenon. Even though the number of expatriates has multiplied over the past decades, female expatriates have only recently started obtaining the opportunity to pursue career prospects in international management positions. Various barriers still prevail that hinder women from acquiring equal opportunities as men, including monetary and occupational segregations. Furthermore, insufficient amount of research has focused on how women expatriates personally experience and interpret gender inequality or inequity, especially within an international environment.
Consequently, this research contributes to the study of gender discrimination in a modernized world. The purpose is to focus on a narrow segment of expatriate women and interpret their personal perceptions and experiences on gender inequality and/or discrimination within an international context. Specifically, the research aims at answering the research question and sub-questions:
How might Danish expatriate women working in managerial positions in China experience gender discrimination and/or inequality?
• How are these experiences potentially different being in a foreign working environment?
• What factors have enhanced or hindered their participation and inclusion as women?
The research challenges the traditional assumptions about gender roles and instead, from a social constructionist perspective, argues that ‘gender’ is a continuous process, which is formed and recreated through social interactions in new contexts. Since the power to structure and reproduce the perceptions of gender unfold on an individual level, the strength of the report emerges from receiving personal interpretations using in-depth interviews. In total, 11 Danish women in management positions, who were currently working or had worked in the People’s Republic of China, were interviewed. A thematic analysis was implemented to uncover themes that correlated to the research question. Multiple themes connecting to gender stereotyping, identity constraints and imbalances, traditional social expectations, gender segregation, and participation and exclusion emerged from the narratives.
These themes combine to illustrate how heterogeneous characteristics of companies, institutional settings, and traditional social norms still contribute to the reconstruction of gender inequality for Danish expatriate women in China.
Specifically, these were primarily subtle actions of gender-based discrimination that appeared amongst locals and internationals. Socio-cultural norms and expectations pushed women to prioritize their employment status, causing constraints on balancing their roles inside and outside of work. Simultaneously, the women were confronted with gender stereotypes that challenged their identity formations on how to perform as an ‘deal worker.’ However, depending on the context, these expatriate women had the capability to ‘lower’ their gender identity by leveraging their foreign identity and management position, as these represent prestige and status within China. Evidently, cultural norms and values proved to influence how gender discrimination is perceived and tolerated divergently in societies.
The theoretical findings contribute to the knowledge on gender inequality by uncovering experiences where gender discrimination still persists for women in international management positions. These barriers are supported by recommendations targeted for companies deploying Danish women to China and for the women themselves. The research also opens the doors for further research both on female expatriation and gender inequality in China.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture - Diversity and Change Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages108