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Women were 30% of the labor force in 1950 and 48.6% of the workforce today. Women are also currently outpacing men in the attainment of college degrees – 36% of women aged between 25- 29 years have a bachelor’s degree compared to 28% of males in the same age group and have surpassed men in college graduation rates. Despite these growing numbers, women have yet to reach a critical mass in leadership positions. Women represent less than 5% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. Out of 195 state heads around the world, only 15 are currently women. Less than 20% of members of the US Congress are women, and women hold only 21% of US Senate seats. Even in the nonprofit world where more than 75% of all workers and volunteers are women, only 45% of women will go on to secure a top position and only 21% of these CEOs will have access to budgets of $25 million or more (Renock, 2017).

Certainly, women have come a long way since first gaining voting rights in 1920. However, we live in interesting times, and challenges remain. Women continue to be stereotyped as unfit for certain jobs because of biological reasons. Women continue to be subject to issues of the glass ceiling and glass cliffs, and inequities persist as women earn 77 cents to a dollar when compared with their male counterparts. Clearly, we have not achieved gender parity in the workplace. Moreover, leadership continues to be viewed as a masculine trait (Eagly & Karau, 2002). The “think manager think male” paradigm is dominant in organizations, continuing to pose challenges for women who aspire to or are currently in leadership roles (Ryan et al., 2016).

Stivers (1993) argued that “these images not only have masculine features but help to keep in place or bestow political and economic privileges on the bearers of culturally masculine qualities at the expense of those who display culturally feminine ones” (p. 84). Indeed, workplaces in the public sector remain gendered (Connell, 2006; Guy & Newman, 2004; Riccucci, 2009; Sabharwal, 2015) challenging the neutrality of public administration. Although Stivers’ work on gender images in 1993 laid the foundation for feminist theorists in public administration, the questions posed in this chapter are: What are some of the challenges women leaders in public administration encounter? What are the gender differences that persist in the field? The chapter will also discuss the implications of research in gender and leadership on scholarship and practice of public administration. Thus, we provide a detailed narrative based on the characterization of women and leadership in the public administration literature and beyond.


This is the authors' manuscript of a work originally published in Public Affairs Practicum, edited by Derek Slagle and Adam Williams.



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