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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.