Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 1, pp. 46–55. © 2018 The
Authors. Public Administration Review
published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on
behalf of American Society for Public
Administration. DOI: 10.1111/puar.12950.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited
and is not used for commercial purposes.
Mary K. Feeney
Arizona State University
University of New South Wales, Canberra
Power in Editorial Positions: A Feminist Critique of
Abstract: Journal editors serve a vital, powerful role in academic fields. They set research priorities, serve as
gatekeepers for research, play a critical role in advancing junior scholars as reviewers and eventually into editorial
roles, build extensive networks, and gain valuable insight into the behavior and preferences of reviewers and scholars.
This article analyzes data collected from leading public administration journals in 2017 to investigate the role of
women as gatekeepers of public administration knowledge. The data illustrate a clear underrepresentation of women
on editorial boards. Drawing from these data, research on journal editorships, and feminist theory, the authors present
a critique of the current state of public administration research and a discussion of a way forward. They conclude
with a proposal for how all public administration scholars (junior, senior, men, and women), journal leadership, and
academic departments can move toward increasing women’s representation in these important positions.
Evidence for Practice
• Of the top 24 public administration journals, six have women editors, six have no women in
editorial leadership positions, and six have only one woman in an editorial leadership position. The
underrepresentation of women in public administration journals is structural and thus changeable.
• Women are overrepresented in lower-status positions such as book review editors and underrepresented in
• Journals can use transparency policies when selecting editors, building editorial boards, and thanking
reviewers to reduce gender bias and increase balanced representation.
• Gender equity in academic journal editorships relies on personal, interpersonal, and structural strategies that
include encouraging women candidates, ensuring departmental support, and developing transparent journal
management and selection processes.
Academic journals play a crucial role in both the
creation of knowledge within scientific fields
and the career advancement of individuals.
Journal editors and editorial boards therefore play
important roles as gatekeepers of knowledge within
fields and the academic marketplace more broadly.
Although we have seen reports of increased gender
equality in academic journal editorial boards (e.g.,
Addis and Villa 2003; Metz and Harzing 2012; Metz,
Harzing, and Zyphur 2016), these increases have not
kept pace with the proportion of female scholars in
various fields. In fact, “there is still substantial variability
in women’s level of representation on EBs [editorial
boards] across journals in the same field of study”
(Metz, Harzing, and Zyphur 2016, 712). This lack of
female representation in editorial roles is important
because evidence suggests that a lack of diversity can
lead to a focus on particular topics or theories (Burgess
and Shaw 2010), inhibit knowledge creation (Konrad
2008), create gender bias in reviewer selection (Lerbac
and Hanson 2017), and indicate to women that
submissions are not welcome (Feldman 2008), thus
exacerbating existing inequitable representation.
In the context of public administration (PA), women
are increasingly moving up the ranks of the field in
terms of faculty positions. Yet women remain half as
likely as men to hold leadership roles in departments,
making up about 33 percent of department heads and
chairs (Sabharwal 2013, 85). Numerous rationales
have been put forward in support of increasing
representation of women in leadership positions in
PA, all of which typically stress that attaining greater
diversity should improve the overall performance of
the field (see Oldfield, Candler, and Johnson 2006;
Sabharwal 2013). In this article, we explore the degree
to which equal representation of men and women
exists in journal leadership. We draw on data from 24
of the top PA journals and explore the proportion of
women in editor in chief roles, leadership teams, book
review editors, and editorial boards. We find that
women are significantly underrepresented in editor,
Helen Dickinson is associate professor
of public service research and director
of the Public Service Research Group in
the School of Business, University of New
South Wales, Canberra. Her expertise is
in public services, particularly in relation
to topics such as governance, disability,
primary health, and models of stewardship.
Helen has published 16 books and more
than 50 peer-reviewed journal articles on
these topics. Further detail can be found at
Lisa Carson is a postdoctoral fellow in
the Public Service Research Group in the
School of Business, University of New South
Wales, Canberra. Her research focuses
on the complexities of translating policy
into practice at the local, national, and
international levels and crosses boundaries
of policy analysis, feminist studies,
political science, international relations,
institutionalist theory, and sociology. She
has published in the Australian Journal
of International Affairs and the
Australian Feminist Law Journal.
Mary K. Feeney is associate professor
and Lincoln Professor of Ethics in Public
Affairs and associate director of the Center
for Science, Technology and Environmental
Policy Studies at Arizona State University.
Her research focuses on public
management, nonprofit management, and
technology use in local government. She
is a founding member of the Academic
Women in Public Administration network.
You can find her research and projects at