Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Mimetic Influence on Minority Underrepresentation in Senior Executive Service

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 8:30 AM
Orchid B (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Melvene Lanier, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University and Melvene Lanier, Design Interactive

The federal government acknowledges minority underrepresentation in the federal government’s Senior Executive Service (SES) level position is a persistent problem.  Why do policymakers adopt certain solutions and initiatives to address this problem?  Federal agencies copy the private sector’s best practices to legitimize the solutions and initiatives such as mentoring, succession planning, and diversity initiatives, further legitimizing themselves amongst their constituents who have vested interests in this problem.  The federal government use common justifications for copying these best practices such as representative bureaucracy and performance effort.  Rather than studying the problem within context and coming to an analytical solution, policymakers scan the environment looking for ways to address the problem with solutions that have legitimacy even if they don’t really address the problem.  This results in an organization structure that reinforces institutional isomorphism instead of change.  I argue that rather than diagnosing the problem specific to the particular concerns of SES, policymakers consistently avoid contextually relevant solutions to address this problem, mimetic influences result in the use of best practices from business and government agencies without outcome.  Justifications for these solutions has tracked changing justifications in some private sector environments rather than being tied to the particulars of public service as it relates to this highly politicized position.  Although minorities have advanced in positions below the SES, policymakers have been unsuccessful in achieving similar results for minorities in SES positions.  Initially, Affirmative Action initiatives were used as solutions to address this problem until 1993 when deliberate inclusion was eliminated with by removing these initiatives and requirements. Using content analysis, my primary data were 14 documents from a 17-year period, 1994 – 2011.  I assessed the frequency solutions or initiatives were selected by policymakers to determine prevalence.  I suggest solutions and initiatives are borrowed because they are available; isomorphism prevails as solutions and initiatives are selected outside their initial context, and these solutions and initiatives have shifting justifications with convergence across time.  Findings in this study indicate the most prevalent solution or initiative is workforce and succession planning strategies.  Also, there was pattern of shifting justifications when selecting solutions and initiatives but no pattern of convergence across time.  One interesting finding in this study was the prevalence of seven out of 16 solutions and initiatives were recommended by a cross-section of policymakers over a 17-year period, which may suggests mimetic influences are without contextually relevant solutions.