Raising half the sky: work–life balance of Chinese female administrative workers
In recent years, a growing body of research has examined the issue of work–life balance (WLB). WLB initiatives have been developed by organisations, not only to aid employees in leading healthier and more satisfying lives, but to attract and retain talent. One area where WLB issues have not been examined in detail is from the perspective of Chinese immigrant women. As one of the largest and growing Asian ethnic groups, the WLB issues faced by Chinese women are especially worthy of being examined and addressed. The primary purpose of this research was to explore the WLB experience of Chinese women in administrative roles at Auckland University of Technology (AUT). It also aims to contribute to the body of knowledge on WLB issues for minority ethnic groups and investigated Chinese women’s coping strategies for integrating work with their non-work roles. An exploratory qualitative case study approach was adopted for this study in order to compare and contrast organisational initiatives and policies for WLB with women’s experiences. A triangulated research design was also employed to glean qualitative data by virtue of multiple methods including archival evidence such as publicly available documentation, secondary research on WLB and AUT’s WLB policies, and semi-structured interviews. This study involved 12 Chinese female administrative staff and three staff members from the Human Resource Department (HRD), the Asian Staff Network (ASN) and the AUT Branch of Tertiary Institutes Allied Staff Association (TIASA). Participants were recruited by utilising sources such as the Asian Staff Network (ASN) and the researcher’s network of contacts within AUT. The findings of the study indicated that Chinese women’s WLB experience and ways of handling work–family conflict (WFC) and family–work conflict (FWC) were affected by their experiences of immigration and cultural backgrounds. In particular, their family situation had a critical influence on the way they organised their households and arranged for childcare or eldercare. Child/elder care responsibilities, personal/family emergencies, and personal/individual sacrifice engendered tensions around their ability to integrate WLB. In addition, work factors such as heavy workloads, meeting deadlines, and working longer hours, and cultural barriers caused emotional stress and physical consequences. While informal support from managers and colleagues and the WLB policies offered by the university helped women address their WLB issues, some policies were underutilised. A variety of coping strategies such as family members, win-lose strategies, time management, building clear boundaries, changing mindsets, and demonstrating commitment were actively adopted by Chinese women as mechanisms to cope with tensions between their work and family lives. The implications of these findings are discussed in light of the theory and practice of WLB.