Blog Emerging Gender Topics in Public Administration

Women in Public Administration Scholarship: Sowing the Seeds of Progress

By: Zoe Alexandra Klobus, Michelle Evans, and Hillary Knepper

Public administration is at a critical juncture- we’re experiencing major change, flux, conflict, and rising expansiveness toward understanding our workforce and the people we serve. This dynamic period provides for an unprecedented opportunity to expand public administration scholarship, and subsequently inform teaching and practice.

Figure 1: Growth in High Profile Academic Women

We argue that this evolution has emerged out of the hard work and dedication of women in public administration. Without the influence of women and their demand for representation, our discipline would be far less equitable and inclusive. But the expansion and availability of women’s public administration scholarship was more of a slow burn prior to the 1990s (See Figure 1).

Source: Klobus, Z., Evans, M., & Knepper, H. (2022). Gender and Public Administration Scholarship (Chapter 24). In Shields, P. and Elias, N. (Eds.) Handbook on Gender and Public Administration. Edward Elgar Publishing. 

The public administration workforce remains gendered. Men traditionally dominated in public administration leadership, while women were generally relegated to less visible and more supportive roles such as administrative assistants. This gendered masculinity has long been replicated in public administration scholarship, ultimately reaffirming it in praxis. Indeed, whose scholarship was published determined what was studied and how visible these topics were in the discipline. Nearly 100 years after Jane Addams was the sole recognized woman’s voice in public administration, we finally see the number of highly visible women scholars creep into double digits. This contrasts with public administration as a discipline with core values rooted in representation and equity, upheld through professional organizations like the American Society for Public Administration, the National Academy of Public Administration, and the accreditation standards for the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration. It is through our commitment to core values of equity and inclusion that we find ourselves reflecting on our discipline and our responsibility for living the very values that we promote, whether in our classrooms or in our research. 

In the first quarter of the 21st century, we face an even greater need to broaden inclusive voices in public administration. The challenges women have historically faced in public administration are shared by other invisible and minoritized groups. We must reach beyond a western society focus and lean into the challenges faced in other parts of the world. For instance, public administration leadership remains elusive for women compared with men in Arab nations (Nasser, 2018) while scholarship by and for underrepresented groups is considered “niche” and is devalued or marginalized (LaSala et al., 2008; Miller and McTavish, 2011; Ng and Rumens, 2017). As new inclusive terminology expands outside of the classroom and into practice, power and privilege are being redefined. Marginalized populations are raising their voices. Whether they are women in repressive countries where their representation in public service is restricted by social constructs of women’s roles or those who have long been marginalized by their sexual orientation, scholarship and praxis are colliding with a rising demand for a full seat at the table.  

Gendered societal norms constrain how individuals are perceived and expected to live (Weingarten, 2015).  “The failure to include women and, much more often, LGBTQ+ community members is a direct result of the failure to eliminate gender norms and the failure to understand the benefits of inclusion and diversity in scholarship, in the classroom and in the workforce” (Klobus, Evans, Knepper, 2022 p.378). Scholars and practitioners must commit to building an inclusive and responsive public administration to avoid leaving valuable voices behind, caught by the same repressions that long held women back. 

There are ways to make this happen. One, be conscious of how and who we’re citing in scholarship- for example, cite diverse scholars and use gender-identifying citations. Two, establish better networking opportunities and career pipelines that engage more representative public administrator students, scholars and practitioners. Three, practice more reflective and thorough analysis- through whose lens are we viewing an issue; which voices are silenced; what can I do to amplify a safe and supportive space for marginalized individuals and groups? 

A more equitable world depends upon public administration fully embracing and prioritizing expansive inclusiveness. This will improve opportunities for future generations of public administration scholars and practitioners around the world, be they women, gender-fluid, and LGBTQ+ individuals. In turn, their perspectives will influence policy, continuing Jane Addams’ call for a new world order of a society built on humanitarianism. The foundational work of women in public administration has shown us the right path. Public administration scholars can and will open new areas of research that redress power and privilege differentials to create a more open, inclusive and equitable world. 

Zoë A. Klobus, Presidential Management Fellow/Management and Program Analyst, U.S. Department of Energy Office of the Under Secretary for Infrastructure

Michelle D. Evans, Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Hillary J. Knepper, Associate Provost for Student Success, Pace University


Klobus, Z., Evans, M., & Knepper, H. (2022). Gender and Public Administration Scholarship (Chapter 24). In Shields, P. and Elias, N. (Eds.) Handbook on Gender and Public Administration. Edward Elgar Publishing. 

LaSala, M.C., Jenkins, D.A., Wheeler, D.P. and Fredriksen-Goldsen, K.I. (2008). LGBT faculty, research, and researchers: risks and rewards. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 20(3), 253–67.

Miller, K. and McTavish, D. (2011). Women in UK public administration scholarship? Public Administration, 89(2), 681–97.

Nasser, S. (2018). Boxed women in public administration – between glass ceilings and glass walls: A study of women’s participation in public administration in the Arab states. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 19(3), 152–71.

Ng, E.S. and Rumens, N. (2017). Diversity and inclusion for LGBT workers: current issues and new horizons for research. Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, 34(2), 109–20. 10.1002/cjas.1443.

Weingarten, E. (2015, January 20). How to shake up gender norms. Time Magazine. Retrieved from

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About the authors:

Zoë A. Klobus is based in Washington D.C. where she is a Presidential Management Fellow. She works as a Management and Program Analyst in the Office of the Under Secretary for Infrastructure in the United States Department of Energy. Prior to her role at the DOE, Zoë worked as an Outreach and Knowledge Management Consultant at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. She is a contributing author to Chapter 17, Decision Making Options for Managing Risk, of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report. Zoë previously interned with the New York State Assembly and worked as a journalist for the online environmental publication GlacierHub. She holds a master’s degree in Climate and Society from Columbia University. 

Michelle D. Evans, PhD, MPA is an Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga specializing in nonprofit management and public administration. Her research focuses on gender equity, inclusive pedagogy, ethics, and nonprofit management. Her recent work has appeared in Voluntas, Public Integrity, Review of Public Personnel Administration, Human Resource Management Review, and Teaching Public Administration. She is a Board Member for the Friends of Cherokee National Forest nonprofit and serves on the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Public Affairs Education and the Journal of Health and Human Services Administration. She is a former chair of the ASPA Section for Women in Public Administration and recipient of the 2019 Marcia P. Crowley Award for service to SWPA. Prior to academia, she spent more than 20 years as a nonprofit practitioner, working primarily with Special Olympics.

Hillary J. Knepper, MPA, PhD is the Associate Provost for Student Success and a full professor in the Department of Public Administration at Pace University. Prior to the Academy, she was an administrator in nonprofit and public sector organizations and brings this strong practitioner perspective to her research on gender equity and healthcare-with particular emphasis on marginalized and vulnerable populations. Her recent work can be found in Public Administration Review, Teaching Public Administration, Journal of Public Affairs Education, Public Integrity, and Public Administration Quarterly. She serves as the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Health and Human Services Administration and is the current Co-President of Academic Women in Public Administration. Her recent media interviews include Scripps National News and a national podcast for Public Integrity. She was recognized by the American Society for Public Administration as one of 16 women in public administration and was featured in their Profiles of Excellence.