Representation, Diversity, and Organizational Performance: A Theoretical and Empirical Exploration in the Context of South African Local Government

Published date01 July 2023
AuthorSergio Fernandez,Robert Cameron,Hongseok Lee
Date01 July 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2023, Vol. 55(6) 1066 –1092
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997231162543
Diversity, and
Performance: A
Theoretical and
Empirical Exploration
in the Context of
South African Local
Sergio Fernandez1,2 , Robert Cameron3,
and Hongseok Lee4
Representative bureaucracy and workforce diversity have become central
topics in the field of public administration. Although representation and
diversity are distinct concepts, public administration researchers often
conflate them. This study seeks to provide analytical clarity by outlining and
comparing the various conceptual definitions of representation and diversity.
We also explain the causal logic of how representation and diversity influence
organizational performance. Finally, with South African local government
as the research setting, we examine the empirical relationship between
1Indiana University-Bloomington, USA
2University of Pretoria, South Africa
3University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, Western Cape, South Africa
4University at Albany, NY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Sergio Fernandez, O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University-
Bloomington, SPEA 449, 1315 E. 10 Street, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.
1162543AAS0010.1177/00953997231162543Administration & SocietyFernandez et al.
Fernandez et al. 1067
these two concepts and explore how different forms of representation and
diversity are related to organizational performance.
representative bureaucracy, diversity, performance
Interest in the social identity of public employees has grown substantially
among policymakers and researchers. In response to demographic changes
and calls for employment equity and good governance, governments through-
out the world have taken deliberate measures to alter the demographics of
public organizations to make them more representative, diverse, and inclusive.
Studies of representative bureaucracy and workforce diversity show beyond
its symbolic significance (Mosher, 1968), the demographic composition of
public organizations has a major influence on the behavior and attitudes of
public employees and citizens as well as on public sector performance (Ding
et al., 2021; Kennedy, 2014; Meier, 2019; Pitts & Recascino Wise, 2010).
A variety of terms arise in research on the demographics of public organi-
zations, with representation (or representative bureaucracy) and diversity fig-
uring prominently in the literature. Representation and diversity are distinct
concepts with different consequences for public organizations. However, a
fair amount of confusion remains as to their meaning, prompting calls for
greater clarity in discussions of organizational demography (Gazley et al.,
2010; Pitts & Recascino Wise, 2010; Gooden & Portillo, 2011). Some who
study the concept of representative bureaucracy use the terms representation
and diversity interchangeably (e.g., Bradbury & Kellough, 2011; Hong, 2016;
Riccucci et al., 2014; Rocha & Hawes, 2009; Turgeon & Gagnon, 2013). The
situation becomes even more muddled when researchers conflate or mix up
the concepts of representation (or representative bureaucracy) and diversity.
Selden (1997), Andrews et al. (2014), and Grissom et al. (2015) state represen-
tative bureaucracies are more diverse in their composition because they reflect
a diverse population. They seem to overlook that representative bureaucracies
can be homogenous instead of diverse in countries where a single racial or
ethnic group constitutes a large majority of the population (e.g., Japan,
Germany, and South Africa). Whether a representative bureaucracy is also a
diverse one, therefore, depends on the composition of the population. Finally,
Pitts and Recascino Wise (2010) and Weisinger et al. (2016), in their reviews
of research on diversity in public and nonprofit organizations, respectively,
find researchers often use measures of racial, ethnic, and gender representa-
tion rather than of variety or heterogeneity when analyzing the concept of

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