Big Questions Surrounding Gender Equity Blog

Response to: Big Questions Surrounding Gender Equity

By Patricia M. Shields, PhD
Texas State University:

When I entered the field of public administration, gender equity was framed by simpler concerns. It focused on the underrepresentation of women in MPA programs and among MPA faculty. There was perhaps a tacit assumption that as women’s presence grew, their impact on the theory, scholarship and practice of PA would grow accordingly. Maria D’Agostino and Nicole Elias’s blog post examine a world where this has yet to happen. They place some of the responsibility for this on women’s lack of representation on editorial boards and in the position of editor-in-chief.

I concur. Decisions about what and who to grace the pages of PA and Policy journals influence the content and leadership of our field. The Feeney et al. (2018) PARarticle “Power in Editorial Positions” made this clear. This article called for more transparency and voiced concern about bias. All of their arguments made sense. While we do not want editors or editorial boards to be bias, they are selected for their expertise and judgment. This judgment guides their decisions about the nature and future of the field. When women are missing from these positions, their guiding judgments are missing. I believe the field would be stronger if these guiding judgments reflected greater diversity. Voices, which now feel marginalized, can be better synthesized.

A commitment to increase the presence of women on editorial board and in the decision-making role of editor, is about the future of PA. I believe we should also turn our attention backward and re-imagine our past. A history of PA absent women is a contemporary problem. We need to find and re-integrate women into our historical narrative. Women’s contributions may not fit the neat categories that provide us with the stories of our founding fathers. We will need to look in unorthodox places and make the connections. The women are there, they were just marginalized and often pushed over into social work. Non-profit administration offers another avenue of investigation.

Even without the authority of the vote, women organized to recreate their communities. Theda Skocpol’s (1995) Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policyand Cam Stivers (2000) Bureau Men and Settlement Womenare examples of work that should be part of mainstream PA history. I feel certain that if we look into social work, particularly the branches that focus on policy and advocacy, we will find many amazing pioneers of public administration. We need a historical pluralism and revisiting and reintegrating the work of women at the time of the founding is one way to do this.

Nicole and Maria asked me to contribute to the discussion because I have edited a journal for almost 18 years. Armed Forces & Societyis on the SSCI for both political science and sociology. It is international and interdisciplinary and looks broadly at social science and policy issues, which emerge as military and society intersect. Subjects we entertain include veterans, military families, gender integration, base closures, privatization, democratic control and mental health. About 15 percent of our submissions come from faculty in public administration or policy schools.

I published my dissertation, which examined the equity of the draft during the Vietnam era in Armed Forces & Society. The organization that owns the journal, Inter-university Seminar on Armed Forces and Society, was begun by military sociologists. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s leaders in this organization offered me many opportunities to expand my scholarly horizons, particularly in the areas of military recruitment, women and family issues. During that time, I attended conferences, participated in invited policy forums, contributed three journal articles, wrote nine book reviews and reviewed about three manuscripts a year. All of these activities contributed to the invitation in 2000 to become the editor-in-chief of Armed Forces & Society.  

In that role, I have been able to exercise that editorial judgment and influence the scholarship of civil-military relations. One surprising way I did this was to assign more European reviewers to manuscripts about the US military. I believed these papers often needed a more international perspective. Only later did I learn that European scholars were pleasantly surprised that they would be asked to comment on papers about the US military. They also began recommending Armed Forces & Societyas a publication outlet to more of their colleagues. The US authors responded positively as their assumptions were challenged and horizons widened.  The tone and scope of these articles improved in unexpected ways. I use this as an example of how seemingly small editorial decisions (who receives reviews) can influence scholarship. I also believe that my perspective as a woman contributed to that editorial decision.

I have several suggestions for how to increase the visibility of and impact of women’s ideas and scholarship in PA. First, don’t be shy. Promote your ideas and scholarship. Present at conferences, use social media platforms like and Research Gate. Cite yourself. Second, find a network of likeminded scholars and publish with them. Cite each other. Third, review for journals. Believe it or not, strong reviews set you up as a possible editor. In these reviews, when appropriate, suggest additional works by women be integrated into the literature. If your work fits, include it too. Fourth, have an active research agenda with manuscripts in various stages of completion. Learn from reviews. Figure out how the comments can contribute and make the changes. I had one particularly nasty and mean-spirited review. After a period of shock, I thanked my stars that I was not married to that jerk and revised taking into account the useful stuff. The line on my vita is sweet revenge.

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