Race in the Middle: Exploring the Impacts of Managerial Differences on Organizational Performance

AuthorErin Melton Robinson,Meredith Walker Anderson,Sadé A. Walker
Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2023, Vol. 55(3) 541 –568
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997221131774
Race in the Middle:
Exploring the Impacts
of Managerial Differences
on Organizational
Erin Melton Robinson1,
Meredith Walker Anderson2,
and Sadé A. Walker3
Public administration studies often fail to address the role of middle
management in organizations. On the whole, most scholarship focuses
on either top-level or street-level bureaucrats while the saliency of racial
identity for management practices is an understudied phenomenon. Bridging
the literatures on race in public administration and middle management, we
argue that race is a significant component of managerial strategy. Utilizing a
large-N dataset of school administrators, this analysis seeks to assess whether
differences exist among mid-level managers. Specifically, this study addresses
two questions. First, in what ways does middle manager strategy differ by
race? Second, if such differences exist, how do they affect organizational
performance? Preliminary findings suggest variation in management styles
and policy preferences across racial groups. Moreover, race acts as a
correlate of administrative and strategy choices, yet the overall impacts of
these differential practices are mixed.
1Rutgers University–Camden, NJ, USA
2American University, Washington, DC, USA
3Prince George’s Community College, Largo, MD, USA
Corresponding Author:
Erin Melton Robinson, Department of Public Policy and Administration, Rutgers University–
Camden, 401 Cooper Street, Suite 301, Camden, NJ 08102, USA.
Email: erin.robinson@rutgers.edu
1131774AAS0010.1177/00953997221131774Administration & SocietyRobinson
542 Administration & Society 55(3)
middle managers, race, racial identity, managerial strategy, organizational
It is widely substantiated in the literature that management matters for public
organizations (Cohen et al., 2008; Meier, 2003; Meier & O’Toole, 2002;
Moore, 1995). Scholars have consistently assessed management at top levels;
yet, ambiguity remains regarding the ways in which middle management
matters. Situated in positions to interact with top-level administrators, street-
level bureaucrats, and actors in external environments, middle managers are
central to public service delivery.
Another understudied phenomenon in public management is the influ-
ence of race and racial identity on managerial strategy and organizational
performance.1 Past research has investigated the intersections of race and
public administration in two identifiable streams of literature: representative
bureaucracy and diversity management. Studies on representative bureau-
cracy that focus on race consider the ability of shared racial background to
facilitate representation and improved public service delivery (Keiser et al.,
2002; Meier et al., 1999; Roch et al., 2010; Selden, 1998; Theobald &
Haider-Markel, 2009). Diversity management scholarship focuses on the
importance of programs and policies that create workplaces where various
social identities are appreciated (Pitts et al., 2010; Riccucci, 2002) and how
such orientations affect performance (Pitts, 2006, 2009). Despite these
evolving areas of inquiry, very few studies focus specifically on minority
public managers, their experiences, and how racial minority status in public
agencies affects public service performance (Carroll et al., 2019; Molina,
2016, 2018).
As an embedded reality of the nation, race is manifest in social, economic,
and political spaces and manifest within government organizations at all lev-
els. Well-documented shortages of racial minorities in management positions
have made the systematic study of minority status in public agencies difficult.
In 2018, 38% of the federal workforce was comprised of a racial minority
group, yet only 22% of Senior Executive Service positions were held by
racial minorities (Office of Personnel Management [OPM], 2018). These sta-
tistics suggest lack of proportional representation to the public and relegation
of minorities to lower positions in the federal bureaucracy. The focus of this
analysis is neither a discussion of reasons why numerical representation lacks
proportionality nor the ramifications of such discrepancies. Instead, we

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