Representative Bureaucracy and Perceptions of Social Exclusion in Europe: Evidence From 27 Countries

Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2023, Vol. 55(3) 515 –540
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997221137562
Bureaucracy and
Perceptions of Social
Exclusion in Europe:
Evidence From 27
Luciana Cingolani1
Representative bureaucracy theory predicts that mirroring social groups
in the composition of the bureaucracy will lead to inclusive policies and
less overall exclusion of diverse individuals. While supporting evidence on
policy outcomes is abundant, findings on subjective perceptions are mixed.
This study tests three hypotheses linking representative bureaucracy to
perceived same-group discrimination in the general population. It introduces
a novel multidimensional index of bureaucratic underrepresentation, and
uses mixed effects hierarchical models to approximate answers. Exploratory
findings suggest an “awareness” mechanism may explain the counterintuitive
relationship between underrepresentation and feelings of exclusion, in
which more diverse public sectors develop alongside higher awareness of
representative bureaucracy, Europe, discrimination, social equity
1Hertie School, Berlin, Germany
Corresponding Author:
Luciana Cingolani, Hertie School, Friedrichstraße 180, Berlin 10117, Germany.
1137562AAS0010.1177/00953997221137562Administration & SocietyCingolani
516 Administration & Society 55(3)
The last decade has seen vibrant discussions around the role of public admin-
istrations in the pursuit of social equity (e.g., Frederickson, 2010; Gooden,
2015; Guy & McCandless, 2012). A prominent aspect in these debates relates
to the way the social composition of the civil service matters for different
democratic and social outcomes. Systematic reviews on the topic show that
more representative bureaucracies lead to beneficial societal outcomes (Bishu
& Kennedy, 2020; Bradbury & Kellough, 2011; Riccucci & Van Ryzin,
2017). These outcomes often take the form of organizational achievements
(e.g., Andrews & Ashworth, 2015; Andrews et al., 2014), but are more gener-
ally reflected on the efficiency, efficacy, and legitimacy of public services
and policies (Liang et al., 2020; Meier et al., 1999; Meier & Nicholson-
Crotty, 2006; Riccucci & Van Ryzin, 2017, among others).
In advancing its propositions, the literature on representative bureaucra-
cies has sought to elucidate how representativeness affects bureaucratic
behavior and clients’ attitudes differentially (Nicholson-Crotty et al., 2016).
In that sense, while most works have focused on the former (e.g., Kennedy,
2013), citizen attitudes have been comparatively much less studied (e.g.,
Riccucci et al., 2014, 2018).
The study of individual perceptions acquires fundamental importance in
the evolving context of representative organizations, where discussions have
moved from equality and diversity toward the idea of inclusion (Andrews &
Ashworth, 2015; Oswick & Noon, 2014). A number of studies address how
diversity affects feelings of exclusion or discrimination within public organi-
zations (e.g., Andrews & Ashworth, 2015; Bae et al., 2017; Ritz & Alfes,
2018), with some scholars showing a complex and nuanced picture (e.g.,
Alteri, 2020; Choi & Rainey, 2010; Naff, 1995).
Most noteworthy is, perhaps, the marked lack of research on how the rep-
resentativeness of bureaucracies affects feelings of exclusion beyond organi-
zational boundaries and into the general population. Representative
bureaucracy theory presents several arguments by which more closed civil
services may lead to concrete exclusions for the underrepresented groups. At
a basic level, democratic governance considers the bureaucracy a critical
arena where social power is deployed, and hence, inequalities of access to the
civil service can be interpreted as unequal access to power (Kennedy, 2014).
Similarly, a key tenet of representative bureaucracy is that the makeup of the
civil service will determine whether broad social interests are considered in
the design and implementation of public policy (Kennedy, 2014; Selden,
1997). Beyond representation, the composition of the civil service has the
potential to alter the daily administrative procedures citizens engage in. There

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