Gender and Organizational Rule Abidance


Shannon Portillo is an assistant professor in the Administration of Justice Department at George Mason University. Her research interests include law and society as they apply to public bureaucracies, particularly the influence of growing racial and ethnic diversity in public employment and how it affects the meanings of law and rules in public organizations.

Leisha DeHart-Davis is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Kansas. Her research interests include the gender dimensions of public administration and the effects of organizational structure and reform on public employees.


A long-standing contention in the public and private management literatures is that women use rule abidance as a way to compensate for their relative lack of organizational power. Many of the studies making this assertion rely on anecdotal evidence rather than theory-guided empirical studies. In this paper, the authors use survey data collected from four cities in a midwestern state to empirically test gender dimensions of rule abidance. The findings support long-asserted gender differences in rule abidance. Contrary to recent scholarship, however, the findings suggest that rule abidance among women is inversely related to organizational status, with higher-level women abiding by rules more so than women lower in the hierarchy.