Managing Racial Diversity: Matching Internal Strategies with Environmental Needs

Date01 January 2019
Published date01 January 2019
Managing Racial Diversity: Matching Internal Strategies with Environmental Needs 69
Anna A. Amirkhanyan
American University
Stephen B. Holt
University at Albany, SUNY
Managing Racial Diversity:
Matching Internal Strategies with Environmental Needs
Abstract: Although demographic diversity has been of paramount concern to researchers and practitioners in public
management, studies exploring managerial strategies to capitalize on and respond to the needs of diverse client
populations are scarce. This article examines strategies for managing diversity as a way to buffer environmental
challenges in service delivery and performance resulting from heterogeneous client demands. Findings suggest that
administrators prioritize diversity efforts when faced with higher levels of regulatory violations (a performance
measure). A higher percentage of black residents is associated with lower service quality. However, the effect of
managerial strategies for diversity on performance is conditioned by the racial composition of the clients: as the
percentage of black nursing home residents increases, diversity management efforts are associated with a lower number
of regulatory violations. Similarly, at higher levels of racial heterogeneity, diversity management efforts are associated
with fewer regulatory violations.
Evidence for Practice
• Matching internal management strategies with environmental demands can help buffer challenges in
delivering public services.
• Practitioners should be cognizant of strategies to better serve diverse clientele in an increasingly multicultural
• A mismatch between strategy and cultural context can undermine organizational performance.
Austin M. McCrea is a PhD
student in the Department of Public
Administration and Policy at American
University. His research interests focus on
public management and organizational
performance. His work has appeared in
Public Administration Review
Research Quarterly
Stephen B. Holt is assistant professor
in the Department of Public Administration
and Policy at the University at Albany, SUNY.
Anna A. Amirkhanyan is associate
professor in the Department of Public
Administration and Policy at American
University. Her research focuses on public
and nonprofit management, organizational
performance, public-private differences,
and citizen participation. Her articles have
been published in the
Journal of Public
Administration Research and Theory,
Public Administration Review, Journal of
Policy Analysis and Management,
oluntary Sector Quarterly
. Her book
Participation in the Age of Contracting:
When Service Delivery Trumps Democracy
explores citizen participation in the context
of complex service delivery structures.
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 1, pp. 69–81. © 2018 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12977.
The issue of demographic diversity, both
internal and external to organizations,
has been of paramount concern to both
researchers and practitioners in public management.
Effectively addressing the additional, and sometimes
conflicting, needs of a diverse population adds an
another challenge to the already complex task of
managing public organizations. Reflecting the racial,
gender, and socioeconomic profile of the citizens
they serve, organizations with diverse leadership
and staff in secondary and higher education, law
enforcement, and other fields have been shown to be
more effective at achieving their goals and making
decisions that are responsive to the needs of their
clients (Hong 2016; Keiser et al. 2002; Marvel and
Resh 2015; Meier 1993; Meier and Stewart 1992;
Pitts 2007; Roch, Pitts, and Navarro 2010; Selden
1997). Diversity management has emerged as a
strategy to nurture the capabilities of heterogeneous
groups and create an inclusive, open, and productive
work environment. In theory and practice, diversity
is a multifaceted concept that includes recruitment
and outreach, building cultural awareness, and
promoting pragmatic management policy within
organizations (Pitts 2006). Separate from managing
diversity within an organization, organizations
must also manage and address diversity among their
Studies on strategic management assume that
managers “set a direction for collective effort, help
focus that effort toward desired goals, and promote
consistency in managerial actions over time and
across parts of the organization” (Boyne and Walker
2010, S186). In order to address heterogeneous
demands that may lead to organizational complexities,
managers must adopt and implement strategies to
buffer these challenges in service delivery. This use
of managerial strategies for client and environmental
diversity is most common to the field of education
(Ayscue 2016; Brown 2003; Larson 2016), yet it is
largely absent in the general public administration
research. This absence of scholarship is puzzling
because management strategies are likely to be critical
when dealing with an increasingly diverse clientele
and attempting to sustain or improve organizational
performance. The objective of this article is to explore
the implications of strategic management for diversity
and its conditional relationship with buffering
challenges in service delivery.
Kenneth J. Meier is Distinguished
Scholar in Residence in the School of
Public Affairs at American University and
professor of public sector management in
the Cardiff University School of Business.
His research interests focus on the
impact of management on organizational
performance and how bureaucratic
organizations affect equity.
Research Article
Austin M. McCrea
American University
Kenneth J. Meier
American University and Cardiff University
School of Business

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