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Durham e-Theses
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Author-imposed embargo until 11 October 2025.


The continuing underrepresentation of women compared to their male colleagues in academic and administrative leadership positions has received considerable attention in the literature, revealing a range of challenges and barriers. Presently, higher education researchers are increasingly focusing on the potentially positive effects of institutional factors on female academics’ career progression across the global academy. However, very little was found in the literature on the lives of professionally successful women (e.g., female professors) in Pakistan. The present qualitative PhD research addresses this gap in the literature by exploring the experiences of institutional practices and structures of a sample of thirty female academics on their routes toward a professorial position in public sector universities of the Punjab province (Pakistan).
A constructivist framework, biographical interviewing, and a qualitative data matrix analysis technique were aligned to design theoretical and analytical tools to conceptualise and operationalise choices and decisions related to the research questions, topics covered in the interview guide, and data analysis methods. Motivated by my personal and professional interests in this topic and drawing on theory and contextual considerations, this thesis explores Pakistani female academics’ understandings of their academic and career choice formations. Furthermore, female professors’ perceptions of the central enablers and hurdles they encountered in their journeys to reach a professorial position were explored. Biographical semi-structured interviews with a sample of thirty female professors produced rich and detailed accounts of the interplay and influence of personal characteristics and circumstances, as well as institutional practices and structures, in their journeys to reach the position of professor in Pakistani higher education organisations. A qualitative data matrix strategy was employed to organise interview data into explanatory themes and relevant categories of study participants’ experiences based on different combinations of illustrative themes. In addition, I created a typology of themes and categories via an abductive coding strategy that involves connecting notions from existing theory with new ones that emerged from the data analysis. Finally, the thematic interpretation of female professors’ career progress/trajectory is presented in chronological order, from the initial framing of their academic and career aspirations and decisions, through to entry into an academic career and early career progression experiences, to promotion tracks towards a professorship.
The qualitative analysis has revealed that progressive family patriarchal figures (fathers, brothers, and husbands) and family beliefs regarding girls’ education and careers were central sources of familial involvement, encouragement and support, enabling women’s academics to participate in public realms of education and professional careers and succeed. In findings, I argue that family networks were supportive rather than oppressive structures – at least in cases where families have progressive family members who facilitate these women to combine childrearing responsibilities alongside the requisites of academic career progress. Furthermore, in relation to exploring what did and did not help female academics’ career progression after joining university employment, biographies shared by women repeatedly emphasised their academic talent and performance (e.g. degrees and published work), academic mentors, and accessible professional development opportunities that enabled them to succeed; or supported them in overcoming hurdles resulting from anticompetitive colleagues’ behaviours or organisational deficiencies.
The overall findings highlight the significance of family background as a source of various enablers/socio-cultural capital(s), as most women in the study were from advantaged family backgrounds. In contrast, a minority of the academic women studied belonged to relatively less well-off families. Yet, still, they experienced parental encouragement and instrumental support for their academic and career achievements even as such values and norms are more common in affluent families than in poorer ones. This research integrates and advances higher education career knowledge by suggesting that women’s career success is influenced by a combination of different socio-cultural capital(s) linked to the privileged family backgrounds or which ensued from workplace networking and professional development opportunities.
In the concluding discussion, I develop an explanatory model to account for the career success of a sample of thirty female professors in this study. This theoretical explanation comprises institutional elements: 1) positive and progressive forms of patriarchy, 2) resourceful family/social networks, and 3) opportunity for reliable family childcare arrangements sourced from family background and its social environment. Finally, the study findings significantly contribute to policy aimed at widening universities’ economic and academic/intellectual capital(s) to enable talented women, even those from less-privileged backgrounds, to perform and progress in male-dominated Pakistani higher education organisations.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Academic career progression, Female professors, Sociology of gender and higher education
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Applied Social Sciences, School of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:12 Oct 2022 08:14

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