Gender, Race, and Diversity Values Among Local Government Leaders

AuthorMary K. Feeney,Leonor Camarena
Date01 March 2021
Published date01 March 2021
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17WSAaI3msmasf/input 865009ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X19865009Review of Public Personnel AdministrationFeeney and Camarena
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2021, Vol. 41(1) 105 –131
Gender, Race, and Diversity
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
Values Among Local
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X19865009
Government Leaders
Mary K. Feeney1 and Leonor Camarena1
Despite the increased emphasis placed on diversity and inclusion, there is relatively
little research that focuses on diversity values in small and medium-sized cities.
This research uses data from a 2016 nationally representative survey to investigate
how city department leaders’ perceptions of their organizations valuing diversity
are related to the identity of the department head, the mayor, and the community.
We find that women and people of color are underrepresented in city department
leadership. Reporting that one’s organization values racial and gender diversity is
significantly related to respondent gender, respondent race (for women), mayoral
race (for women), and diversity in the community (for men), and that the interaction
of mayoral and community identity is related to perceived diversity values. We
conclude with a discussion of what these findings mean for diversity and inclusion in
practice in local government departments, which often lack demographic diversity.
diversity, gender, workplace culture, local government, values
In 2016, women accounted for 20% of mayors and 25.8% of department heads in
medium and small cities in the United States (e.g., populations 250,000-25,000); 17%
of mayors were people of color.1 Although women and people of color are generally
well integrated into the modern labor American workforce, they remain underrepre-
sented in higher level management. Organizations are the creation of the people they
1Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ, USA
Corresponding Author:
Mary K. Feeney, Professor and Lincoln Professor of Ethics in Public Affairs, Center for Science,
Technology & Environmental Policy Studies, Arizona State University, University Center, Suite 400,
411 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85004, USA.

Review of Public Personnel Administration 41(1)
embody (Hutchinson, 2011); thus, when organizations are led by homogeneous
groups, they are less likely to embody multiple values, perspectives, and diverse inter-
ests. In all levels of government, when the lower ranks of the civil service are made up
of women and people of color and men and White men dominate the upper levels,
equal opportunity to influence government is undermined (Wise, 1990). This is espe-
cially problematic in local government where federal hiring programs do not apply
and where government most closely interacts with the public.
A lack of diversity in leadership inevitably shapes the culture of the public sector
and its effective delivery of public services to diverse communities. Public organiza-
tions that lack diversity are more likely to undervalue inclusion and engage in actions
such as self-selection away from diversity in recruitment and discrimination in hiring
(Baekgaard & George, 2018). Demographic diversity in the upper levels of public
organizations leads to more progressive policies aimed at diversity and inclusion
through the organization; women and people of color in leadership serve as a model
for others aspiring to leadership (AbouAssi, Bauer, & Johnston, 2019; Riccucci, 2002).
Since the 1960s, affirmative action (AA) programs, Equal Employment Opportunity
(EEO) policies, and diversity management strategies have aimed to advance diversity
in government organizations (Pitts, 2009; Rosenbloom, 1977). Recently, there has
been an emerging focus on creating a climate that welcomes and appropriately man-
ages diversity (Bae, Sabharwal, Smith, & Berman, 2017; Gonzalez & Denisi, 2009;
Oberfield, 2016).
Diversity research is loosely concentrated in three areas: inclusion and integration,
diversity policies and programs, and diversity effects (Pitts, 2006). Thomas (1990)
was the first to focus on the concept of “valuing diversity,” an intermediary between
the progression of AA and EEO programs and diversity management. Valuing diver-
sity in the workplace is often seen as an organizational focus that encourages employ-
ees to value diversity through bulletins, newsletters, workshops, and team building
(Pitts, 2006). Although legal mandates emphasize employing people of particular
identities, there is little research on the perceptions that government leaders have about
diversity norms and values. This research is motivated by the following research
Research Question 1: Do city department leaders perceive their organizations as
valuing gender and racial diversity?
Research Question 2: How are the characteristics and identity of the department
head, mayor, and community related to gender and racial diversity values?
Diversity is an important aspect of government organizations from two perspec-
tives: management and governance (Blessett, Alkadry, & Rubaii, 2013). Managing
diversity is important for administrators that work in diverse organizations. Research
finds when organizations manage diversity well, women report higher levels of job
satisfaction (Choi & Rainey, 2014) and organizations can increase productivity (Naff
& Kellough, 2003). Governance considers the interactions of administrators with
multiple stakeholders in different environments (Blessett et al., 2013)—seeking to

Feeney and Camarena
govern for inclusion in a diverse work environment where different stakeholders have
distinct needs. Managing and governing diversity enhances organizational effective-
ness and organizational productivity and can provide organizations with a broad
range of ideas, skills, and insights (Cox, 1994; Ely, 2004; Wiersema & Bantel, 1992).
Organizations with a culture where managers are committed to diversity can increase
job satisfaction, innovative behavior, and work group performance (Moon, 2018;
Pitts, 2009).
The theory of representative bureaucracy argues diversity matters for leadership in
public agencies and that bureaucracy should reflect the diversity of its citizenry
(Kellough & Naff, 2004). Gender, racial, and ethnic diversity in bureaucracies are
expected to translate to policies and programs that target or benefit women and people
of color in the general population (Riccucci, Van Ryzin, & Lavena, 2014). Some gov-
ernment agencies have introduced diversity management programs to increase hetero-
geneity (Choi & Rainey, 2014; Wise & Tschirhart, 2000) and develop a climate and
culture that is committed to the inclusion of diverse individuals (Bae et al., 2017;
Oberfield, 2016). Although formal equal opportunity hiring programs have been in
effect for decades and there is a preponderance of evidence that representation matters
and a diverse climate is valuable for organizations (Gonzalez & Denisi, 2009), women
and people of color remain underrepresented in government leadership and little is
known about how local governments value diversity. For our purposes, diversity val-
ues are defined as a department administrator’s awareness that diversity is permitted
to flourish, broadly encompassing inclusion and integration, diversity policies and
programs, and diversity effects.
This research examines whether the social identity of city department leaders and
political leadership (e.g., mayors) is related to perceptions of diversity values in their
organizations—including the hiring and advancement of women and people of color.
We analyze how the gender and racial and ethnic identity of city department leaders,
mayors, and communities are related to diversity values in city departments. We use
data from a 2016 nationally representative survey of 500 small and medium-sized cit-
ies, U.S. Census data, and data collected from government websites. We describe the
proportion of women and people of color in municipal leadership positions across the
500 cities and contribute to the broader diversity research in government by illustrat-
ing how individual identity and representation are related to perceptions of diversity
values in municipal government. We conclude with a discussion of next steps to move
beyond counting demographics to assessing social identity, diversity values, and
inclusive practice.
Diversity and Social Identity
Public organizations, compared to private organizations, tend to have more diverse
employee populations in terms of race, sex, and age. Many suggest this is the result of
a commitment to increasing workforce diversity by recruiting, hiring, and retaining
employees with different backgrounds (Cornwell & Kellough, 1994; Foldy, 2004).
Although women and people of color have made gains in government employment in

Review of Public Personnel Administration 41(1)
the United States, there remain a host of discriminatory practices and biases (Riccucci,
2002). Despite broader organizational shifts in programs and policies committed to
diversity, recent research on a sample of U.S. federal employees indicates white men
are more likely to report a diversity climate while minority men and women indicate
their organizations are less committed to diversity (Oberfield, 2016).
Recruitment is a central focus across diversity management programs...

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