Gender and Local Government: A Comparison of Women and Men City Managers

By Fox, Richard L.; Schuhmann, Robert A. | Public Administration Review, May 1999 | Go to article overview

Gender and Local Government: A Comparison of Women and Men City Managers


Fox, Richard L., Schuhmann, Robert A., Public Administration Review


Do women city managers view their role differently than their male counterparts? Do women offer a style of city management different from men? Does the inclusion of women in the highest positions of administrative power alter the nature of representation in city government? These questions have been largely overlooked in explorations of the local government landscape. In this article we address these questions by presenting the results of a national survey of over 500 men and women city managers in the United States. Our central finding in this investigation is that women managers are more likely than their male counterparts to embrace a style of management that relies on citizen input. This finding may have broad implications for the development of local public policy and for the type of representation that exists in city-level bureaucracies.

Gender and Political Leadership

In an effort to better frame the significance of gender influences on the behavior of city managers it is important to first take cues from two broad bodies of literature--the literature showing influences of gender on the behavior of public officials and the literature focusing on the importance of the city management position to local government. There is an expanding body of socio-psychological and political science literature that suggests women have political attitudes and societal orientations that differ in meaningful ways from those of men. Further, there is a body of scholarship that argues convincingly that public administration broadly conceived is a highly gendered environment (Stivers, 1993; 1990; Ferguson, 1984). While it is also important not to overstate gender differences, it is increasingly evident that men and women often bring different leadership qualities, agendas, priorities, and methods of conceptualizing policy issues to their professional roles.

Many investigators have relied upon Carol Gilligan's (1982) path-breaking but controversial book, In a Different Voice, as the basis for establishing potential differences between the leadership, management, and political behaviors of women and men. Gilligan's central assertion is that men and women "construe social reality differently," leading to the creation of distinctively male and female voices (171). According to Gilligan, the female voice embraces the ideals of responsibility, caring, and interconnectedness, while the male voice embraces adherence to rules and individualism (172-3). Other socio-psychological investigations, including some conducted by Gilligan herself, have further refined her initial arguments (Gilligan, Lyons, and Hanmer, 1990; Gilligan, et al., 1988; Belenky, et al., 1986;).

Based, in part, on these conceptions of gender differences, a growing number of studies of elected officials, public administrators, and private managers have explored the professional behavior of men and women and found important differences. For example, in studies of elected officials, Thomas (1994) found that women state legislators placed high priorities on policies that concern women, family, and children, while male legislators focused on business and economic legislation. At the national level, Clark (1998) studied the voting records of women and men in the U.S. House of Representatives and concluded that on certain issues, such as abortion and the environment, gender is an important determinant of how a member of Congress votes. In a study of leadership style, Rosenthal (1998) found that women committee chairs in state legislatures were much more task oriented than their male counterparts (176) (see also Carey, Niemi, and Powell, 1998; Kathlene, 1998; Berkman and O'Connor, 1993; Reingold, 1992; Dodson and Carroll, 1991; Tolleson Rinehart, 1991; Saint-Germain, 1989).

In terms of the management style of appointed or merit employees, the research on gender influences in the public sector seems less well developed than the literature on elected officials. …

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