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Race, Gender, and Government Contracting: Different Explanations or New Prospects for Theory?



The U.S. Congress created the Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB) and Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) programs to promote fairness in government contracting. In this article, the authors examine whether increases in racial and gender representation in federal agencies correlate with the proportion of contract dollars awarded to women- and minority-owned firms. Using the theory of representative bureaucracy as a starting point, they find evidence that increases in passive minority representation result in a larger proportion of contract dollars awarded to minority-owned firms, which comports with previous empirical research. There is no evidence, however, that female representation leads directly or indirectly to substantive benefits for women-owned small businesses. Given that the findings for women do not support representative bureaucracy, the authors provide potential alternative explanations. Specifically, they consider gender bias, social identity, and the “queen bee” phenomenon as possible explanations for why women are less inclined to advocate for other women.