Women's Participation as Leaders in the Transformation of the Chinese Media: A Case Study of Guangzhou City

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A 1995 UNESCO-commissioned survey of Chinese women journalists revealed that women only comprised 8.5% of high-level leadership positions in the Chinese media. Taking the survey as its springboard, this study set out to explore women's leadership experiences in the Chinese media, as embodied in Guangzhou City, the hive of media reform in China. Twenty-two women media leaders and nine men media professionals in Guangzhou were interviewed. Statistical data of the overall distribution of women leaders in the Guangzhou media were also obtained.

Media leadership in Guangzhou was divided into two tiers. Women leaders are still very much the minority, with their presence in second-tier (similar to mid-level) leadership higher than that of first-tier (high-level) leadership. It was found that first-tier women media leaders followed a different promotion pattern from those in the second tier, corresponding to the political function and industrial structure of the Guangzhou media. The distribution of women in first-tier leadership is uneven among different media sectors with the highest percentage in radio stations followed by newspaper groups and then TV stations, likely a result of the lower industrial and social status of the radio sector. Women's distribution in second-tier leadership is uneven among different media organizations, likely a result of these organizations' different institutional cultures and promotion mechanisms.

This study identified a range of reasons that have contributed to the under-representation of women in leadership in the Chinese media, which were then compared to the reasons as suggested by the 1995 survey. Women's leadership advantages and disadvantages and their experiences of balancing work and family were discussed. The women media leaders have vividly witnessed, actively participated in, and in some cases successfully propelled the transformation of the Chinese media in Guangzhou. Their leadership experiences have helped to reveal the complex interplay of the political economy of the Chinese media and to expose problems that have emerged in the transformative process. Media transformation in China has brought a significant increase of women media professionals and has resulted in a seemingly improved representation of women in media leadership in Guangzhou, mainly at the second-tier level.