Theorizing Status Distance: Rethinking the Micro Theories of Representation and Diversity in Public Organizations

AuthorSandra Groeneveld,Kenneth J. Meier
Date01 February 2022
Published date01 February 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2022, Vol. 54(2) 248 –276
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997211028825
Theorizing Status
Distance: Rethinking
the Micro Theories of
Representation and
Diversity in Public
Sandra Groeneveld1
and Kenneth J. Meier1,2,3
Through bringing the concept of status distance to representative bureaucracy
and diversity management literature, this article develops new hypotheses that
can guide future studies on representation and diversity in public organizations.
First, including status distance brings consideration of the tensions that
minority representation creates between integration within the workforce
and the pressures on minority bureaucrats to actively represent clientele.
Second, the way status distance plays out in the interaction of bureaucrats
with co-workers and citizen-clients depends on characteristics of the national
and organizational environment and type of service.
representative bureaucracy, diversity management, status distance,
organizational context
1Leiden University, The Hague, The Netherlands
2American University, Washington, DC, USA
3Cardiff University, UK
Corresponding Author:
Sandra Groeneveld, Institute of Public Administration, Leiden University, P.O. Box 13228,
The Hague 2501EE, The Netherlands.
1028825AAS0010.1177/00953997211028825Administration & SocietyGroeneveld and Meier
Groeneveld and Meier 249
Both in the empirical literature and in practice, representative bureaucracy
(RB) and diversity management (DM) overlap in their advocacy for more
diversity in organizations but are distinct in their objectives. RB is concerned
about equity and the treatment of disadvantaged clientele. DM, in contrast, is
focused on managerial performance criteria, such as efficiency, effectiveness,
and creativity. Perhaps as the result of the different outcomes’ focus, the litera-
ture of RB has generally developed separately from the literature of DM with
a few exceptions (Andrews & Ashworth, 2015; Ashikali & Groeneveld, 2015;
Groeneveld & Van de Walle, 2010; Pitts, 2005; Selden & Selden, 2001). In
addition to a failure to recognize that representation can be instrumental for an
organization and contribute to effectiveness and efficiency, the estrangement
of the RB and DM literatures might also be attributed to their underlying theo-
ries and levels of analysis. Whereas the micro theory of bureaucratic represen-
tation centers on the interaction between individual bureaucrats and their
citizen-clients, DM literature focuses on intraorganizational processes at the
group level, such as the interaction among co-workers within work groups.
These intraorganizational processes may be important to explain how bureau-
cratic representation may work out across the micro, meso, and macro levels,
but have not systematically been included in RB studies.
In this article, we argue that status distance may be the missing theoretical
link between the two literatures. Status differences between groups in society
influence how individuals interact with one another not only within but also
across organizational boundaries. However, despite a focus on disadvantaged
groups within society, a surprising omission so far in the theory of RB has
been the lack of theorizing on status differences between social groups. One
could assume, though, that status difference is a precursor to political salience
with status difference a necessary condition for sociodemographic character-
istics to become politically salient within a bureaucratic context. While polit-
ical salience that is associated with status differences in society is assumed to
be an important condition for demographic characteristics to matter in
bureaucratic decision-making, how status differences at the societal level of
analysis may play out in bureaucratic decision-making is not elaborated upon
within RB theory. We, therefore, propose to express the micro theory of RB
in terms of the more general theoretical constructs of status characteristics
and status distance, and from there elaborate the theory in a more systematic
DM literature has focused on heterogeneity with regard to sociodemo-
graphic characteristics (Harrison & Klein, 2007) rather than on representation,1
and without much theorizing on why some sociodemographic characteristics

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