Almost 50 years ago, NAPA Fellow Nesta Gallas – the first female president of the American Society for Public Administration – wrote that “…the spectrum of beliefs and concerns about the status of women in the profession” could be summarized as “…discrimination against, under-representation of, and underutilization of women…” (Gallas 1976, 347). Underrepresentation of women in higher level jobs in public service, and among full professors in departments that prepare students for public service careers, remains an issue today, but to a substantially lesser extent than when Gallas wrote in 1976.
At the beginning of the career ladder, more women than men are now getting the MPA degree. As they climb the ladder, more women are filling higher-level positions in federal, state, and local governments and are moving up through the academic ranks, albeit still with less representation than among the rank and file. And while women continue to contend with sticky floors, glass ceilings, and trap doors, their increasing presence in senior-level positions in government and academia sends a positive signal of women’s growing influence. More are in positions where they serve as role models and mentors. This is an encouraging change from 30 years ago when Academy Fellow Mary Guy observed that: “There are so few women who hold management positions that senior women mentors are hard to find” (1993, 290).
More women are also having their accomplishments recognized as evidenced by their growing share of elected Fellows in the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA). When Gallas was writing in 1976, women accounted for 21% of NAPA’s newly elected Fellows and 7% of all Fellows (see Figure 1). In 1993, when Guy was writing, women accounted for 24% of newly elected Fellows. As we write this, women account for 46% of newly elected Fellows and 33% of all Fellows.
Note: In Figure 1, women as a percent of total Fellows do not account for deceased Fellows.
Women not only account for an increasing proportion of NAPA Fellows; they have a growing presence in the organization’s governance. NAPA’s current president is a woman – just the second woman to hold this position - and four of the six NAPA standing committees are chaired or co-chaired by women. The inclusion of women in NAPA is also found in their representation on its Board of Directors, the decision making arm of the Academy. At the start of 2023, nine of the Board’s 18 members are women, a much greater representation than the one female member at the turn of this century. Progress is slow but, similar to the arc of justice, it bends in the right direction.
Gallas, Nesta M. A. 1976. “Symposium: Women in Public Administration.” Public Administration Review 36 (4): 347-349.
Guy, Mary Ellen. 1993. “Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Backwards: The Status of Women’s Integration into Public Management.” Public Administration Review 54 (4): 285-290.