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Blog Emerging Gender Topics in Public Administration

From the Margin to the Center

By: DeLysa Burnier

Immy Humes, a documentary filmmaker, recently published The Only Woman (2022), a fascinating visual study of gender in/equality. Her book features 100 photographs, dating from 1862 to the present, all of which show “one woman” surrounded by men. The women are writers, artists, activists, revolutionaries, politicians, educators, musicians, entertainers, scientists, athletes, journalists, doctors, lawyers, and industrial workers from 20 countries. Some of the women are well-known historical and contemporary figures, but many are women whose names and accomplishments have been long forgotten with the passage of time.

I found Humes’s project intriguing because Frances Perkins, one of the subjects in my chapter for The Handbook on Gender and Public Administration (2022), was “the only woman” in the photograph for twelve years as the first woman to serve in a president’s cabinet. President Franklin Roosevelt appointed her Secretary of Labor in 1932 and she served until his death in 1944. Selected for her experience in New York state government and her expertise in social welfare and employment policy, Perkins was charged by Roosevelt with the task of developing key pieces of New Deal legislation. She was the primary architect of the Social Security Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act that citizens still depend upon today. These laws established old-age insurance, unemployment compensation, welfare, federal assistance for blind and disabled citizens, the eight-hour workday, overtime, and the minimum wage.

When Humes’s book arrived, I was pleased to see that she had included “an only woman” photograph of Perkins. Taken in 1939, the photograph shows Perkins with six men in a group standing outside on what appears to be the steps of the White House portico. The men stand on two steps behind Perkins, wearing nearly uniform clothing of winter overcoats, white shirts, ties, and hats. Perkins, however, stands alone on a lower step wearing a coat with her signature tricorne hat and pearls. She is clutching gloves in her hands and a purse filled with papers. She seems symbolically to be of the government but not fully, in the same way she is of the group but not fully. That she is depicted looking in the opposite direction from her male colleagues only reinforces her separateness and distance from them.

Although Perkins was the only woman in Roosevelt’s cabinet, she was not the only woman in Roosevelt’s Administration. For the first time, there was a large network of women in important leadership and administrative positions throughout the federal government. Like Perkins, they had been working for years through settlement houses, local and state agencies, and nonprofits to embed social justice, equity, and care in public policy and administrative practices. Roosevelt’s presidency gave these women, as well as men who shared their social justice commitments, the opportunity to transform federal domestic policy.

Critical to this network was Jane Addams, the co-founder of Hull House in Chicago, Illinois. Addams, the second subject in my Handbook chapter, mentored and inspired Perkins and many other women administrators through her care-centered leadership approach and her belief that government at all levels must commit to meeting ordinary citizens’ needs. Addams pioneered a care-centered approach to leading that emphasized relationality, viewing situations from multiple perspectives, learning from others, and cooperative problem solving. Hers is a perspective that emphasizes contextual, concrete knowledge in policy and administrative practice, as well as values such as attentiveness, responsibility, competence, and responsiveness. As I note in my chapter, retrieving Addams’s and Perkins’s stories “is important because it enables contemporary scholars, practitioners and students who share their values to understand that they too are part of a long historical tradition in public administration” (p. 63).

Just as women historically were so often the “only one” in the photograph, it is also the case that for years books, symposia, and handbooks in public administration typically included one chapter on gender. Slowly and steadily public administration’s “gender scholarship picture” changed so that one chapter or article has become many. The Handbook represents the culmination of this change. Its editors, Patricia M. Shields and Nicole M. Elias, gathered some 40 scholars to write 27 chapters that explore the “theoretical and historical roots” of gender in public administration, the “pillars of public administration,” and different “contexts of gender and public administration.” The scholarly picture that emerges is diverse, intersectional, and global. Many different theoretical and analytical frameworks are represented, and the chapters themselves range across multiple topics relating to gender. The presence of this project sends a signal to the larger public administration scholarly community that women, more specifically, gender issues no longer belong alone on the margin.

References

Burnier, D. (2022). The long road of administrative memory: Jane Addams, Frances Perkins and care-centered administration. In P. Shields & N. Elias (Eds.), Handbook on Gender and Public Administration (pp. 53-67). Northhampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

Humes, I. (2022). The Only Woman. New York: Phaidon Press.

Shields, P. & N. Elias. (Eds.) (2022). Handbook on Gender and Public Administration. Northhampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

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About the author:

DeLysa Burnier is a professor of political Science at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.  She received her Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her current research interests are gender and public administration, gender and leadership, teaching pedagogy, interpretive approaches to policy analysis, and public administration during the New Deal. Specifically, her work is focused on the development of a care-centered approach to public administration. Her research appears in Administration & Society, Public Administration Review, Administration Theory and Praxis, Journal of Public Affairs Education, and Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Earlier scholarship appears in Economic Development Quarterly, Political Research Quarterly, Feminist Teacher, and Journal of Urban Affairs. She serves on the editorial board for Administrative Theory & Praxis. Additionally, she has published several book chapters, and was the recipient of two national grants in the areas of campaign finance and political advertising.

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Blog Emerging Gender Topics in Public Administration

Going with the Flow: Gender in Public Administration 

By: Nicole Humphrey

Within the field of public administration scholars have conducted decades of research on gender in the public sector, providing an extensive collection of scholarship informing our understanding of gender. The recently published, Handbook on Gender and Public Administration continues this line of research, helping the field to continue its exploration of gender. Within this volume, my chapter explores gender and public service motivation (PSM). 

My central argument in this chapter is that to improve our understanding of gender and public service motivation, we must grapple with the complexities of gender. Specifically, we must avoid viewing gender as a binary concept and begin exploring gender as a social structure. Social structures are human-made restrictions on the actions and thoughts of people (Blau, 1977; Burt, 1982; Giddens, 1984). Viewing gender as a social structure, we can describe it as a concept restricting human behavior in relation to an individual’s display of masculinity and femininity. Social structures are constantly changing. As Risman (2004) notes, “structures not only act on people; people act on social structures” (p. 432). This means that societal gender norms and expectations can change—people can challenge gendered expectations and display their gender how they want. 

Why is viewing gender as a social structure helpful? In public administration scholarship we often rely on a binary view of gender that emphasizes distinct behaviors of men and women based on common expectations of masculinity and femininity. For instance, in PSM literature, scholars tend to theorize that women are motivated more by compassion, based on assumed behaviors associated with femininity. However, empirical evidence has often challenged this assumption (Moynihand & Pandey, 2007; Bright, 2005; Leisink & Steijn, 2009; DeHart-Davis et al., 2006). As Risman (2004) notes, people have autonomy over how they interact and counter the gender social structure. This means people can push back on the social structure of gender and perform gender in ways that do not align with traditional notions of masculinity and femininity. If we recognize this, it allows us to theorize about how gender shapes behavior and motivation more effectively when research findings conflict with our assumptions.  

In addition, viewing gender as a social structure pushes us to expand our research on gender topics. Historically, when we have discussed gender in public administration, we have focused on studying differences in behaviors and outcomes among men and women. When we move beyond viewing gender as binary categories, we can begin to more regularly study the experiences of people that identify as transgender, gender fluid, or nonbinary. Recent research highlights that the number of children and teenagers that identify as nonbinary or transgender is increasing (Diamond, 2020). If we intend to have a more complete understanding of gender, our work must give more attention to individuals identifying as transgender, gender fluid, or nonbinary.

What is important to remember is that gender norms are changing, and our research needs to reflect these changes. In short, we need to be willing to go with the flow. One way that we can do this is to no longer look at gender as binary categories (i.e., man and woman), but instead allow gender it exist with fluidity. While conceptualizing gender as a social structure complicates our understanding of gender, doing so will provide the field of public administration with an understanding of gender that is more inclusive. 

Blau, P. M. (1977). Inequality and heterogeneity: A primitive theory of social structure. Free Press New York.

Bright, L. (2005). Public Employees with High Levels of Public Service Motivation: Who Are They, Where Are They, and What do They Want? Review of Public Personnel Administration, 25(2), 138–154. 

Burt, R. S. (1982). Toward a structural theory of action: Network models of social structure, perception, and action. Academic Press New York.

DeHart-Davis, L., Marlowe, J., & Pandey, S. K. (2006). Gender dimensions of public service motivation. Public Administration Review, 66(6), 873–887.

Diamond, L. M. (2020). Gender Fluidity and Nonbinary Gender Identities Among Children and Adolescents. Child Development Perspectives, 14(2), 110–115. 

Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. University of California Press.

Leisink, P., & Steijn, B. (2009). Public service motivation and job performance of public sector employees in the Netherlands. International Review of Administrative Sciences, 75(1), 35–52.

Moynihan, D. P., & Pandey, S. K. (2007). The role of organizations in fostering public service motivation. Public Administration Review, 67(1), 40–53.

Risman, B. J. (2004). Gender as a social structure: Theory wrestling with activism. Gender & Society, 18(4), 429–450.

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About the author:

Nicole Humphrey is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Miami. Her research connects public administration and organizational behavior, primarily focusing on emotional labor, diversity, and equity. She has been published in several journals, including Review of Public Personnel Administration and Administration & Society

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Blog Emerging Gender Topics in Public Administration

How a gender-neutral housing policy leads to gender disparities

By: Megan E. Hatch

Police responded to a complaint of boy/girl trouble…Ms. [Redacted] willingly let Mr. [Redacted] into the apartment…It is clear that Ms. [Redacted] is involved in a pattern of behavior that is disruptive to her neighbors and places an undue burden on the resources of the [City] Police Department. As such, the property is being declared a nuisance.

Like many aspects of American life, rental housing is gendered. As I argue in my chapter When gender-neutral rental housing policy becomes gender-inequitable in the new Handbook on gender and public administration, edited by Patricia M. Shields and Nicole M. Elias, housing policy has a disparate impact on women, despite surface-level gender-neutrality. Here, I focus on Criminal Activity Nuisance Ordinances (CANOs) and what administrators can do to reduce the harm these policies do to women.

CANOs are local laws that essentially say if the police are called too many times to an address in a certain amount of time (for example, three times in a year), the property can be considered a nuisance. Further police visits at that property can lead to fines. Not all police visits are considered a nuisance. Some CANOs are very limited, listing specific offenses, while others are very broad. Rental properties are more likely to be deemed a nuisance than owner-occupied properties, and the common landlord response is to evict the tenant. The estimated 2,000 CANOs across the U.S. are on the surface gender-neutral because it is a property, not a person, that is considered a nuisance. Yet, my co-authors and I find people with disabilities, people of color, and families with children are more likely to receive nuisance notifications, while another study concludes these laws increase gender and racial inequities. 

Perhaps the area where the disproportionate impact of CANOs is most apparent is in cases of domestic violence. Studies estimate that somewhere between 20 and 58 percent of nuisance notifications are for domestic violence. The quote at the beginning of this blog post is just one such example. A potential consequence of such a notification is that the survivor of the assault, statistically most likely a woman, is victimized again, as she is forced to move because of the nuisance notification, even if the person who assaulted her does not live at the property and/or was arrested. In essence, CANOs can deny those experiencing domestic violence the right to call for police assistance. I agree with other scholars that this is an example of sex discrimination.

What is perhaps most concerning in light of this discrimination is the high degree of discretion and low levels of accountability associated with CANOs. My co-author and I find that elected officials rarely examine the reasons for nuisance notifications or how often they are issued, even though administrators have a lot of discretion to decide when a property is considered a nuisance. 

The most straight-forward way for cities to address the discriminatory effects of CANOs is to change their laws, either by eliminating CANOs completely or by including a provision that CANOs do not apply in cases of domestic violence. These changes may come through court cases, or by cities voluntarily changing their laws, often after advocacy by policy entrepreneurs. More bureaucratic and police accountability is needed. Policymakers need to dispense with the rationalized myth of bureaucratic neutrality, and instead recognize the inherent discretion in housing policy implementation by designing housing policies such as CANOs to hold administrators responsible for ensuring gender equity. 

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About the author:

Megan E. Hatch is an associate professor in the School of Urban Affairs, Cleveland State University. Her research focuses on the variation in policies within the US federalist system and the effects those disparities have on social equity, individuals, and institutions. Within this theme, she examines three policy areas: rental housing, state preemption, and the CDBG program.

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Blog Emerging Gender Topics in Public Administration

The Road to City Manager: A Balancing Act for Women near the Top

By: Ashley Wayman and Patricia Shields

I knew from the beginning of my Master’s studies that my ultimate career goal was to become a city manager. Growing up, my dad was first a police officer, and then eventually worked his way up to becoming the City Manager in the city where we lived, so I was exposed to this profession from a young age. I was struck by the way that the work truly made a difference in people’s lives every day. I attended city events, volunteered, sat in on city meetings, and ultimately developed a love for public service. 

I grew up being told that I could do anything I put my mind to, but as I was beginning to think about starting my career in local government there was a statistic that hung over me – only 13% of city manager positions in the United States were filled by women. I asked myself, what obstacles did women aspiring to city manager positions face? I examined this question in my last semester as an MPA student through my capstone research project. Because the literature is filled with surveys of city managers, I chose to survey female department directors and assistant city managers – successful women in the pipeline to becoming city manager. I was lucky to have the support of my professor, who also has a passion for studying women’s role in the public sphere.

I wanted to understand the motivations, career aspirations, work-related attitudes and ultimately what these dedicated women saw as roadblocks on their journey to becoming city manager. Why were only 13% of the city manager positions nationwide filled by women? And, more importantly, I really wanted to find out what it was that kept women from becoming city managers, and what could be done differently. What was the proverbial glass ceiling really made of? 

Most of the committed and highly qualified women I surveyed expressed interest in becoming a city manager. They struggled with balancing often long, irregular weekly work hours (40 – 59) with a personal life filled with family and caregiving responsibilities. They also provided important messages that I took to heart as I began climbing the career ladder. I stayed active in professional organizations and took advantage of professional education opportunities. I remained committed to my career, working long hours in order to prove that I was there to do whatever the city needed. The voices of the women I surveyed went with me as I worked late nights and early mornings striving to excel. They were pushing me up that ladder, and now as I am moving into my new role of City Administrator I am grateful for the time and effort that I put into my capstone project. I also recognize that I have been able to do what I have done because I haven’t faced the same family balance issues as many of the women I surveyed. I took on work commitments unhindered by many of the family responsibilities they reported.  But now, as I plan a wedding and prepare for a new future, I understand that some things will likely change for me and my career. 

The women in my survey most likely to aspire to the city manager position had mentors. Drawing from their experience, I call on my professional mentors weekly, and deliberately work with women early in their careers seeking guidance. Though it feels like I am talking about my current perspective as if it’s my view from the top, I know that I am still climbing this ladder, and will be asking for help along the way, for a long time. This study and the lessons I have learned through their voices have greatly informed my career decisions.  I will keep raising my hand and searching out retention tools that will make this profession a favorable environment for aspiring female leaders. I will also keep seeking balance in my career and personal life, and encouraging others to do the same. Encouraging and empowering others is one reason I was so pleased to share their voices in the book chapter I co-authored with Dr. Shields and Samantha Alexander in the Handbook of Gender and Public Administration. Hopefully, the insights of my respondents will reach a wider audience and encourage others to seek out the job of city manager. 

Authors’ note: We wrote this blog together and chose to use Ashley’s voice throughout.

Wayman, A., Alexander, S., & Shields, P. M. (2022). Women in Texas local government: the road to city manager. In Shields, P. & Elias, N. Handbook on Gender and Public Administration. pp. 302 – 316. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Authors’ note: We wrote this blog together and chose to use Ashley’s voice throughout.

Wayman, A., Alexander, S., & Shields, P. M. (2022). Women in Texas local government: the road to city manager. In Shields, P. & Elias, N. Handbook on Gender and Public Administration. pp. 302 – 316. Edward Elgar Publishing.

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About the author:

Patricia M. Shields is a Regents’ professor in the Department of Political Science at Texas State University.  She along with Nicole Elias edited the Handbook on Gender and Public Administration. She enjoys working with students on their research projects. She has published extensively in public administration theory, methodology, women in PA history, and civil military relations. She is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.

Ashley Wayman was appointed the City Administrator of the City Rollingwood, Texas in June 2022. Before coming to Rollingwood, Ashley worked in municipal finance in the San Antonio area, serving as the Assistant Finance Director for the City of Leon Valley. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting from the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas and a Master of Public Administration from Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. She is active in many professional organizations including the Texas City Managers Association.

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Blog Emerging Gender Topics in Public Administration

Double-Paned Problems: Black Women in Governmental Affairs

By: Schnequa Nicole Diggs

In the August 2011 issue of Essence, Viola Davis said “As Black women, we’re always given these seemingly devastating experiences- experiences that could absolutely break us. But what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly. What we do as Black women is take the worst situations and create from that point”. As a Black woman in America, the lament found in Davis’s quote is an example of not only the resilience of Black women but how race and gender, as social constructs, combine to create multiple intersecting identities to create situations of double disadvantage, discrimination, and exclusion.

In The Handbook on Gender and Public Administration, Diggs speaks to this point by exploring how intersecting identities of race and gender create unique inequities that limit access to government. She specifically traces the treatment of Black women in governmental affairs and the systematic practice of intersectional invisibility in public administration. As a discipline and a practice, public administration has been slow to acknowledge the need to consider the differential impacts of policy and administrative actions towards race, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other social descriptors. This reluctance confirms the invisibility of intersectionality in government which hinders the ability to see how singular perspectives of identity inform the socially constructed world across diverse societies.

Periodically the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reports workforce trends in the federal government. This data continues to show how government favors male and White identities above all others. Specifically looking at data on senior executive leadership, more than 70 percent of individuals identify as White and male. Controlling for race, White women mirror higher representation (79 percent) in federal leadership when compared to Black women (>12 percent). Black women are also overrepresented in particular segments of government. The disparities among these numbers is an overt example of how intersectional inequities denote where Black women should be. 

One potent argument for the misrepresentation of women in leadership is the structures of marginalization in public workplaces. To help explain, the concept of the “glass ceiling” is generally offered. In this context, the “glass ceiling” is an invisible barrier- in the form of subtle discrimination-  transparent yet strong enough to prevent career advancement for women. Metaphors of “sticky floors” and trap doors” have also been used to explain barriers to career advancement. Yet, for Black women, the barriers limiting access to government are along both racial and gender lines. Centering Whiteness and masculinity present a double discrimination for Black women’s access and opportunities for career growth. Catalyst describes this double-barrier as the “concrete ceiling” to explain the interactive effect of racism and sexism. Diggs extends this thought by offerings yet another alternative to describe how barriers affect the advancement of Black women. She introduces the concept of a “double-paned glass ceiling” suggesting the extra panel of glass gives the same strength of exclusion as concrete but preserves the transparency of the invisible barrier. With this metaphor Black women can see advancement but have to deal with double obstacles to get to it.

At some point we- as public administrators have to take ownership in our part in sustaining and reinforcing systems of racial and gendered inequities. It is great to see growing interest in studying the lived experiences of individuals who identify with multiple intersectional identities. Because by doing so we-as public administrators- draw attention to the necessity of intersectional consciousness to counter the status quo towards true social equity.

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About the author:

Dr. Schnequa N. Diggs is an Assistant Professor of Public Administration in the Department of Public Administration at North Carolina Central University. Dr. Diggs teaches courses in the MPA core curriculum and select electives in the Urban and Regional Planning and Law and Society specializations. Dr. Diggs’ research interests focus on social justice advocacy and crafting effective policies to reduce generational inequities in interrelated policy areas: housing, planning, health, and environmental. Her research interest has been guided by volunteer efforts in grass-roots organizations with a commitment to community development. She has a strong commitment to educate and encourage future public administrators furthering their education in graduate studies. Dr. Diggs currently serves on the board for the Conference of Minority Public Administrators (COMPA) and the Section on Democracy and Social Justice (DSJ). She also serves on the Durham Affordable Housing Implementation Committee in Durham, North Carolina.

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Blog Emerging Gender Topics in Public Administration

Introduction to the 2022-2023 Blog Series: Emerging Gender Topics in Public Administration

By: Patricia Shields, Nicole Elias, and Maria D’Agostino

This blog series features contributions based on chapters from Handbook on Gender and Public Administration (Shields and Elias, 2022). This is a liminal time for the study of gender and public administration (PA). Only a few decades ago, this field focused almost solely on integration of women. It is now moving toward a field of study that incorporates equity issues surrounding gender identity, sexual orientation, the nonbinary experience and intersectionality. Voices calling for social equity diversity and inclusion are urgent and often include young practitioners and scholars. It is a time of redefinition, renewal, re-drawing or reimagining conceptual boundaries of the field. We are revisiting wicked problems surrounding gender equity with new questions and approaches. 

Gender remains a critical, yet under-developed lens for understanding public administration and policy. This blog series will further the discussion on topics from the history and theories associated with gender and public administration to the “pillars” or core concepts of public administration intersecting with gender, and the context of gender in public administration. Bloggers speak to pressing gender issues from local, state, national, and international contexts and contributor voices range from those studying gender for several decades to students just beginning this line of inquiry. Our first blog is written by Schnequa Nicole Diggs, “Double-Paned Problems: Black Women in Governmental Affairs.” We welcome submissions throughout the Fall 2022 semester, if you are interested in contributing, please email us at genderequity@igeps.org.  

Shields, Patricia M. and Elias, Nicole M. (Eds). (2022). Handbook of gender and public administration. Edward Elgar Publishing. ISBN 9781789904727

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Patricia M. Shields is a Regents’ professor in the Department of Political Science at Texas State University.  She along with Nicole Elias edited the Handbook on Gender and Public Administration. She enjoys working with students on their research projects. She has published extensively in public administration theory, methodology, women in PA history, and civil military relations. She is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.

Nicole M. Elias is an Associate Professor in the Department of Public Management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY and Founding Co-Director of the Initiative for Gender Equity in the Public Sector at John Jay College. Her research focuses on equity in public administration and policy, with an emphasis on the ethics of administration, management of human resources in public organizations, and public policy impacts on different populations.   Her recent book projects include two co-edited volumes: Handbook of Gender and Public Administration (2022) and Ethics for Contemporary Bureaucrats: Navigating Constitutional Crossroads (2020). She regularly collaborates with practitioners in government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Dr. Elias was a Research Partner with the New York City Commission on Gender Equity and held a Research Fellowship at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Office and U.S. Department of Defense’s Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI). 

Maria J. D’Agostino is a Professor of public administration in the Department of Public Management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Founding Co-Director of the Initiative for Gender Equity in the Public Sector. Her expertise is applied in practice through various public sector partnerships including the NYC Gender Equity Commission and the United Nations Gender Equity in Public Administration group.

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Blog Inclusion in Public Sector Workplaces

Disabled in the Workplace: Designing Work for Access and Inclusion

three people collaborating on a project
by Kayla Schwoerer:

Whether navigating a new work environment at home or developing a greater reliance on technology to meet, manage, and coordinate work-related tasks and responsibilities, the COVID-19 pandemic forced many people to adapt to new ways of working.

But, for many of the 10.9 million workers in the U.S. with a disability, working from home helped break down the barriers people with disabilities face in the workplace, enabling them to engage with their work in new ways thanks to advancements in technology that enhanced accessibility and provided greater control over their work environment.

A 2017 study[1] found that 30% of college-educated workers report having a disability, yet only 3.2% disclosed their disability to their employers. Of the 30% of people who reported having a disability (according to the Americans with Disabilities Act definition), 62% said their disability was “invisible” to others, and 26% said it was “sometimes visible” depending on the circumstances. Invisible disabilities, also known as hidden disabilities, refer to the spectrum of physical, mental, or neurological disabilities (or challenges) not obvious to the eye. Some of the most common hidden disabilities are anxiety and depression, diabetes, chronic pain or fatigue, and neurodivergence, including ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and dyslexia.

While the Americans with Disabilities Act mandates reasonable accommodations for those with physical and mental impairments, visible or not, people with disabilities still encounter many obstacles to accessing accommodations in the workplace. For people with disabilities, working from home might mean increased access to helpful and often necessary accommodations that they may not have had access to previously.  Not to mention, employers are only required to provide accommodations if workers have disclosed their disability formally, which in many cases, requires people to provide “proof” that their disability significantly interferes with their ability to do certain things.  This is undoubtedly a product of ableism in the workplace and society at large. Still, as disability activist Mia Mingus[2] argues, it also subjects disabled people to “forced intimacy” by placing undue burden on people to disclose personal and sensitive details about themselves as a requirement for the access and accommodations they need to be successful. In reality, there are many reasons why someone would make the choice not to disclose their disability. Cultural and personal attitudes and beliefs as well as fear of or past experiences with discrimination, disparate treatment, or not being believed because their disability is not visible to others have a profound impact on whether someone chooses to disclose (or not).

There is a vast spectrum of disabilities, visible, invisible, and somewhere in between. The ways in which disability impacts one’s experience navigating life and work is unique to everyone, as is the “work from home” experience. However, for many, the ability to work from home has meant they no longer have to navigate inaccessible workplaces or inaccessible transportation and infrastructure to even get to work in the first place. They also might find that they have greater control over designing an environment that supports and accommodates their disability or greater access to new resources and supports not previously available to them. Additionally, for those with invisible disabilities or fear of disclosing a disability, it might even mean reduced stress from the time and effort spent concealing or working extra hard to compensate for one’s disability.

The new and ongoing developments in telework technology, including video platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet, offer a number of accessibility features, including live closed captioning, screen readers, as well as downloadable transcriptions of meetings. Microsoft Teams even provides speech to text, chat translation, and the ability to magnify and adjust the color contrast of the screen and interface. These features increase accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing community, the visually impaired, and they also aid neurodivergent folks with information processing, comprehension, memory, and attention in ways that were not previously possible.

As workers return to the office or perhaps transition to work from home arrangements permanently, it’s important for organizations and managers to take this opportunity to re-think access and inclusion for individuals with disabilities. Disability accommodations are not one-size-fits-all and most workplaces are not equipped to adequately accommodate the wide range of disabilities and lived experiences of people with disabilities. There are many excellent technological tools and resources such as those mentioned above, and the technology is continually evolving with more and more accessibility features added regularly. Leveraging these tools in the workplace can be crucial for access and inclusion but technology is not the only answer. One of the best, but often overlooked, places to start is empathy and understanding by asking people what they need to feel supported and be successful, regardless of disability status. Organizations can begin to break down the barriers that exist by signalling support, making available accommodations transparent and easily accessible, and proactively pursuing and promoting inclusive and accessible tools and policies with or without individuals having to disclose a disability. Lastly, leaders can look to the Principles of Universal Design,[3] a framework developed to guide the process of designing usable products and environments. Doing so can help to inform the design of accessible, inclusive, and equitable environments, policies, and communications for all in the workplace.


[1] https://www.talentinnovation.org/_private/assets/DisabilitiesInclusion_KeyFindings-CTI.pdf

[2] https://leavingevidence.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/forced-intimacy-an-ableist-norm/

[3] The Center for Universal Design (1997). The Principles of Universal Design. Accessed from: https://projects.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud/about_ud/udprinciplestext.htm

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About the author:

Kayla Schwoerer is a Doctoral Candidate at Rutgers-Newark in the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA). Her research focuses broadly on the intersection of public management, science and technology policy, and social equity. She is particularly interested in understanding the ways that public and nonprofit organizations leverage science, technology, and design to engage the public, enhance equity, and provide public value.

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Blog Inclusion in Public Sector Workplaces

Inclusion: Intent or Impact?

diverse successful businesswomen smiling and walking together in modern workplace
by Dr. Schnequa N. Diggs:

Greater attention and resources are intentionally directed to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in the United States. Just recently, I had the opportunity to service on a faculty search community and this experience led me to question whether people genuinely understand what constitutes “meaningful” inclusion in public sector workplaces.

Teaching at a minority-serving institution has been a unique experience where shying away from DEI concerns is a disservice for students and the field. As a search committee member, it was extremely important for me to consider potential candidates with experience working with diverse students and creating an inclusive learning environment.

Interestingly enough, it became apparent that intentional efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion proved to be a daunting task for senior and junior faculty. Candidates responses ranged from uncertainty to “cookie-cutter” which clearly indicated a miseducation of the complexities in defining and developing DEI strategies. One candidate’s strategy for inclusion was to treat all students the same, despite their diversity. This strategy directly contradicts the purpose of DEI efforts and perpetuates exclusive practices. I started to really think about the idea of celebrating diversity and so-called inclusion in the public sector. I question whether we have entered into an era of color-blind or gender-blind administration as a plausible response to issues of inclusion?

We are well aware of the legal mandates to increase workplace opportunities for underrepresented persons regardless of their social categories. Laws such as Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), have been put in place to protect vulnerable populations from discriminatory hiring practices. It is through these laws we cultivate equitable workspaces, or so it appears. Yet, beyond these legal parameters, we seem to have missed the mark for “meaningful” inclusive policies and practices.

A possible justification, for incremental achievements to “meaningful” inclusion, could be explained by the oppressive state of America. Oppressive systems, by definition and practice, are in direct opposition to equitable access “for all”, especially when “for all” is narrowly defined by “whiteness” and “maleness”. Thus instead of fixing the real problem, oppression, we continually discuss and implement catchy concepts and create positions (i.e. diversity and inclusion officers) to mitigate exclusionary practices. We also accept ambiguous definitions of inclusion and how we should measure inclusive practices. Although the push for inclusive workplaces has risen as a top priority in the public sector, the question remains whether the goal should extend beyond measuring intent and focus more on impact?

In May 2021, the Harvard Business Review discussed this very topic by indicating ways to measure inclusion in the workplace. Through the use of the Gartner Inclusive Index, public organizations can capture employee perceptions of inclusion on seven dimensions: fair treatment, integrating differences, decision-making, psychological safety, trust, belonging, and diversity. This index is useful for setting baselines and identifying inconsistencies in employee perceptions of inclusion. The overall goal is for public organizations, specifically, to critically rethink traditional policies and practices and incorporate audits and accountability structures to sustain inclusion (https://hbr.org/2021/05/how-to-measure-inclusion-in-the-workplace).    

By no means is it my intent for this blog entry to criticize or discredit specific positions that promote, support, and advance equity and inclusion. I believe this initiative is a step in the right direction. I’m just simply saying that we need to think beyond the intention of these positions and focus more on the impact of these positions and other strategies towards “meaningful” inclusion in practice.

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About the author:

Dr. Schnequa N. Diggs is an Assistant Professor of Public Administration in the Department of Public Administration at North Carolina Central University. Dr. Diggs teaches courses in the MPA core curriculum and select electives in the Urban and Regional Planning and Law and Society specializations. She completed her Ph.D. in Public Administration in 2015 from Florida Atlantic University where she examined factors influencing the level of cultural competence in emergency medical services. She also holds an MPA with a specialization in urban research and planning from Old Dominion University and a BBA in finance and marketing from North Carolina Central University. Dr. Diggs’ research interests focus on social justice advocacy and crafting effective policies to reduce generational inequities in interrelated policy areas: housing, planning, health, and environmental. Her research interest has been guided by volunteer efforts in grass-roots organizations with a commitment to community development. She has a strong commitment to educate and encourage future public administrators furthering their education in graduate studies. Dr. Diggs currently serves on the board for the Conference of Minority Public Administrators (COMPA) and the Section on Democracy and Social Justice (DSJ). She also serves on the Durham Affordable Housing Implementation Committee in Durham, North Carolina.

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Blog Inclusion in Public Sector Workplaces

Situating Inclusion: Shifting Perspectives in Public Sector Workplaces

woman writing in paper
by Dr. Karen Sweeting:

Inclusion is intertwined with diversity, equity, justice, and representation. The problem is that public sector workplaces continue to be tainted by issues of general diversity categorization, demographic disparities, as well as various types of “isms” that continue to exclude marginalized communities, generate inequities, promote disparities, and present barriers to full participation in public organizations.

Historically marginalized communities, particularly black and brown people, women, LGBTQA, and people of specific national origins remain more cautious in how they navigate public sector workplaces and spend an inordinate amount of time negotiating several pervasive fears: of not being good enough, of being profiled negatively, of not getting hired, of being fired based on harsher discipline guidelines, of not being promoted based on merit, of not having access to equal opportunity; of not having a voice, and a general and resounding fear of being labeled. Feelings such as these are exhausting emotional work that takes time away from more productive endeavors.

It is critical that organizations recognize that ingrained systemic and structural barriers continue to privilege some and denigrate others. When employees feel a sense of belonging and can participate and feel valued in organizations, they experience inclusion and are more motivated to engage in and contribute to an organization. The extent to which employees identify with their organization may lead to feelings of value, respect, belonginess, and engagement, or, conversely, feelings of separation, discrimination, isolation, disengagement, and/or alienation and suppression. Employees’ sense of inclusion or exclusion will influence their responses, perceptions, engagement, and commitment to organizations.

The definition of inclusion has expanded and can be defined as the fostering of a sense of belonging and acceptance for employees to be able to maintain the unique attributes of their diverse identities. Inclusion encompasses the ability of diverse employees to participate; have a voice; feel connected, feel respected, and valued; and be able to participate and contribute to organizations without losing a sense of self and individual attributes and identity (integrate, not assimilate). Inclusion also denotes engaging, empowering, and fostering equity to leverage differences, and alludes to an organization connecting its members through practices, values, ideologies, leadership, and behavior to foster a sense of belonging and responsiveness. Inclusion is not about assimilating, conforming, or trying to fit into dominant norms and cultures of an organization. 

Experiences of inclusion at the individual and organizational level can be influenced by a variety of factors that include leadership, culture, norms, policies, practices, representation, access, perceptions, value systems, job satisfaction, and engagement. Fostering inclusion requires an integration of differences between people and organizations as well as the integration of theoretical, conceptual, operational, technical, and practical efforts. Public organizations can institute meaningful change to actively engage in responsive and committed actions that recognize the intrinsic value of diverse employees. There are no absolute formulas as the requirement for each organization will be different, so strategies and initiatives need to be anchored in eliminating discrimination, racism, stereotypes, exclusion, biases, disparities, and marginalization. 

Public organizations should consistently work to incorporate goals and strategies that promote equity, fairness, justice, and transparency in the workplace. Steps to foster and integrate inclusion in strategies and goals and eliminate barriers include but are not limited to addressing 1) leadership engagement, sensitivity, and responsiveness to diversity, equity, and inclusion; 2) specifying intentional strategic and operational goals; 3) cultural awareness and sensitivity in policies, practices, programs, and procedures; 4)integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion into human resource management to build a diverse and representative workforce; 5) cultivating a supportive, inclusive, and equitable organizational culture and climate; 6) reinforcing and sustaining a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion; 7) employing sensitive and inclusive communications; 8) and implementing targeted training and professional development on diversity, equity, and inclusion. These strategies offer ways for organizations to actively engage in setting action-oriented goals targeting ingrained, systemic, and institutionalized disparities and moving beyond diversity management. 

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About the author:

Dr. Karen Sweeting is an Assistant Professor of Public Administration in the Department of Political Science in the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Rhode Island. Dr. Sweeting’s focus in public administration is diverse and incorporates over 20+ years of practitioner experience and human resource management background. In her research, she focuses on disparities in public administration; policy development, implementation, and outcomes; organizational learning; cultural competence; representative bureaucracy; and human resource management. Secondary research interests include public management; ethics; emotions; and marginalization in public administration, public policy, and public and non-profit management.

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Blog Inclusion in Public Sector Workplaces

Pursuing Inclusion in Public Administration: Starting Upstream

woman in white long sleeve shirt sitting on green grass field
by Nicole Humphrey:

The field of public administration has a complex relationship with the concept of inclusion. While much of the field’s current research has sought to address the topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion, if we go back to the field’s genesis and work our way forward, there are several examples of different groups being actively excluded.

As we see the politics of elected officials become increasingly divisive and challenge values often assumed inherent in public administration (i.e., equity and inclusion), there are concerns about how this impacts public servants at all levels of government and if organizations are capable of actively pursuing inclusionary practices and policies.

Recognizing the challenges that many public organizations currently face with respect to inclusion, the question becomes: how do we continue to prioritize inclusion in the field of public administration? One strategy for pursuing inclusion is that we, as a field, begin working upstream. A helpful example of working upstream is King County’s work to address issues of racial equity. Seeing many disparate racial outcomes, King County decided to take a proactive approach that involved addressing issues of racial inequity at its earliest stages. In the context of pursuing inclusion within public sector organizations, moving upstream means teaching the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the earliest stage possible for those beginning their training as public servants—undergraduate public administration programs. The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA), as of 2019,  provides a list of 70 programs that offer undergraduate degrees in public administration or a related field. However, additional research suggests that there are currently more than 160 programs. The pursuit of inclusion in the public sector workforce should begin here, at the undergraduate level.  

Inclusion is deeply connected to the concept of equity, and highlights the need to ensure that all groups, especially those that have been historically marginalized, are treated with fairness. There are several public organizations that have sought to prioritize inclusion and pursue organizational policies that promote racial and gender equity. However, there are still several current examples of women, people of color, and LGBT individuals facing challenges of exclusion within their organizations. While issues of organizational inclusion may seem like the responsibility of individual organizations, public administration academic programs still bear some responsibility in how prepared public organizations are at managing issues of inclusion.

Undergraduate programs are an excellent place to begin training those interested in public service on the importance of inclusion. While we tend to focus our efforts on the education of master’s students, beginning to place a greater emphasis on undergraduate programs allows us to take an upstream approach to inclusion. This is not to suggest the master’s student should not be prioritized, but that undergraduate students should receive more attention. By making a greater effort to teach undergraduate students inclusionary practices, we can help build a workforce that is ready to take on the equity related challenges facing many public organizations today.

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About the author:

Nicole Humphrey is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Miami. Her work uses organizational behavior concepts grounded in public management scholarship to explore the concepts of equity and emotional labor in public organizations. She has work published in Administration & Society, Review of Public Personnel Administration, and the Journal of Public and Nonprofit Affairs.