The Impact of Gender Diversity and Disparity on Organizational Performance: Evidence from Korean Local Government-Owned Enterprises

AuthorSunmin An,Soo-Young Lee
Published date01 September 2022
Date01 September 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2022, Vol. 42(3) 395 –415
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X21990718
The Impact of Gender
Diversity and Disparity on
Organizational Performance:
Evidence from Korean
Local Government-Owned
Sunmin An1 and Soo-Young Lee2
Previous studies have shown inconsistent results regarding the impact of diversity
on organizational performance. To address this issue, it is imperative to not only
discuss diversity with regard to numerical balance, but also hierarchical composition
of groups. We categorized diversity into variety and disparity. Variety refers to the
categorical composition of groups and disparity indicates the vertical distribution
of power or the power dynamics between groups. Focusing on gender diversity,
we conduct empirical research on the impact of diversity on organizational
performance. We find that variety as well as disparity, that is, the evenly distributed
power between groups, have positive impacts on organizational performance.
These results imply that diversity is practically beneficial to organizations with
multifaceted characteristics. We suggest that beyond considering the normative
view, social movements promoting gender-equal employment in overall levels and
managerial positions should emerge and be discussed as a strategy to enhance
organizational performance.
diversity, gender and public personnel administration, international public personnel
administration, affirmative action and equal employment opportunity
1Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education & Training, Sejong-si, Korea
2Graduate School of Public Administration, Seoul National University, Gwanak-gu, Seoul, Korea
Corresponding Author:
Sunmin An, Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education & Training, 370, Sicheong-daero,
Sejong-si, Korea.
990718ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X21990718Review of Public Personnel AdministrationAn and Lee
396 Review of Public Personnel Administration 42(3)
As increasing diversity becomes a social issue, both public and private organiza-
tions are required to increase diversity in their ranks (Kelly & Dobbin, 1998; Pitts
& Wise, 2009). Research on diversity for the last 50 years has been interested in
the impacts that increasingly diverse workforces have on organizations, and this
issue has been fostered by New Public Management (Mathews, 1998; Thomas,
1990; Williams & O’Reilly, 1998). Recent diversity research ultimately accounts
for more than 10% of the major articles published on public administration
(Carrizales & Gaynor, 2013).
Diversity, referring to the factors distinguishing oneself and others, has mainly
discussed in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity (Williams & O’Reilly, 1998).
Gender diversity, the focus of this study, has become one of the traditional categories
of research since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted in the United States as a
reaction to Affirmative Action (Pitts & Wise, 2009; Wise & Tschirhart, 2000).
Unfortunately, a large amount of research identifying the impacts of diversity still
provides conflicting results (Cox, 2001). These results face criticisms that “diversity
research does not seem to have moved past affirmative action” (Sabharwal et al.,
2016, p. 12), and this field of research should move beyond understanding diversi-
ty’s impacts on organizational performance “relying largely on some combination of
common sense and good faith” (Ely & Thomas, 2001, p. 229). Regarding studies on
our research focus, some report gender diversity is positively related to firm finan-
cial performance (Campbell & Mínguez-Vera, 2008; Herring, 2009), perceived
organizational performance (Choi & Rainey, 2010), job satisfaction (Choi, 2008),
and health (Wegge et al., 2008). However, conflicting results are also shown, relat-
ing gender diversity to negative task performance (Schneid et al., 2015), decreased
employee job satisfaction (Choi, 2013), and increased turnover behavior (Moon,
2018b). Mixed impacts are also identified: gender diversity is found to play a posi-
tive role in organizational effectiveness only when joined with group cohesion (Lee
& Farh, 2004), supportive management structure (Opstrup & Villadsen, 2015), and
transformational leadership (Moon, 2016). Alternatively, no effect is shown on orga-
nizational social capital (Moon, 2018b).
One possible explanation of these mixed results is that these studies disregard the
hierarchical distribution of organizational members. Until recently, it was believed
that a mere numerical imbalance between groups was the primary cause of discrimina-
tion in organizations (Ely, 1995). This belief led to the optimistic view that balancing
the numbers would end workplace discrimination. However, a higher employment rate
of a particular group does not guarantee their increased authority. This optimistic
belief ultimately leads minority groups to be employed only at the entry level in orga-
nizations (Williams & Bauer, 1994) and leads to frequent discrimination, such as that
imposed by the glass ceiling and glass cliff (Ryan & Haslam, 2007; Sabharwal, 2013;
Smith, 2015). This irony, we assume, shows that a simple numerical balance between
groups does not ensure an environment where both genders are equal and indicates
that it would be wise to “rethink looking beyond numbers” (Yoder, 1991).

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