Shannon Portillo, Ph.D.

University of Kansas

Country: United States (Kansas)

About Me:

Shannon Portillo is an Associate Professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas. Dr. Portillo returned to KU, in 2013 after serving five years on faculty at George Mason University. Her research takes an interdisciplinary approach pulling on organizational theories rooted in Public Administration and Law to explore how rules and policies are carried out within public organizations. To date she has done work in a broad array of organizations including the military, courts, probation, administrative hearings, policing, higher education and city management. Using a variety of methods, she collects empirical data to assess how social, cultural and legal factors influence the day-to-day operations in these organizations. Teaching and research interests include social equity, social justice, organizational theory, and law and public management. Her work has appeared in a variety of academic journals including Law & PolicyAdministration & SocietyLaw & Social InquiryJournal of Public Administration Research & Theory and Public Administration Review, as well as popular outlets including the Huffington Post and NBC Latino. In addition to research she is passionate about mentorship and serves as a McNair Scholar Mentor and Faculty Fellow for the Center for Undergraduate Research and the Office of Faculty Development. 

Research Interests

Public Administration

Public Policy

Military Intervention


Gender & Military

Social Equity

Local Government



Journal Articles:

(2019) The Myth of Bureaucratic Neutrality: Institutionalized Inequity in Public Administration, Review of Public Personnel Administration

As a field, we often relate merit and neutrality to the technical skills needed to be the “best” candidate for a job, but that was not necessarily what civil service reformers had in mind. The civil service system was meant to replace widespread political patronage, but the myth around the origins of the civil service system masked inequalities built into early testing requirements and institutionalized racial inequities in hiring practices. In this article, we argue the founding myth of bureaucratic neutrality was so powerful that it continues to reverberate in our field. We trace the current reverberations of the myth of neutrality through modern hiring practices and the contemporary legal landscape. By doing this, we present a systematic review of this rationalized myth in public employment, using an institutionalism framework. As the myth of bureaucratic neutrality continues to permeate decision-making, policy creation, and implementation, it will continue to institutionalize inequity within the field.

(2017) Managing from the Middle: Frontline Supervisors and Perceptions of their Organizational Power, Law & Policy

Frontline supervisors serve in a critical role, maintaining relationships between upper management and frontline workers; however, we still know relatively little about how subordinates view their power in relation to their supervisors and how frontline supervisors understand and exercise their own power. Focusing on street‐level workers and frontline supervisors across a statewide community corrections agency, we explore perceptions, experiences, and assertions of power in the workplace. Using focus groups with thirty‐two street‐level probation and parole officers and focus groups and field observations of seventy‐five frontline supervisors, we find that officers and frontline supervisors have widely differing views on the power of the frontline supervisory position, some of which are influenced by gender. While street‐level workers align frontline supervisors with policy creators, frontline supervisors view themselves as disempowered go‐betweens. Frontline supervisors compensate for their perceived lack of power in policymaking and implementation by using micropower strategies to assert their power. This study extends street‐level bureaucrat theory to the role of frontline supervisors, who in practice are distant from the upper management roles with which they are typically categorized.

(2017) Not a Woman, A Soldier: Exploring Identity through Translocational Positionality, Sex Roles

Recent debate over integrating women into U.S. military combat units presents an opportunity to examine the gender identities and experiences of women in the military. Here, we examine the context-dependent prominence of intersecting identities including work role and gender ascribed to female soldiers in Special Operations. Using a mixed methods approach, based on 28 focus groups with 198 soldiers and a survey conducted with 1701 men and 214 women, we argue that female soldiers’ experiences refute their male colleagues’ assumptions regarding their ability to serve in combat units. The experience of identity in the workplace is different for men and women because women experience fluidity in their identity depending on with whom they are interacting and where interactions occur, whereas men experience and understand gender identity as a fixed, static trait. Although women experience the fluidity of their gender identity based on context, their male colleagues remain oblivious to the contextual nature of gender identity while also maintaining their authority in policing the boundaries of gender in the military context. Our research adds nuance to literature on identity, demonstrating the fluctuating nature of ascribed identity, which shines light on the socially constructed, artificial barriers to women’s ascension in the workplace.

(2014) Street-Level Construction of Justice, Annual Review of Law & Social Science

By conceptualizing street-level bureaucrats (SLBs) as the ultimate policy makers, Michael Lipsky (1980) focused attention on the interaction between citizens and the state at the organizational front lines. In subsequent years, research on SLBs provided significant insight into the interactions of SLBs and citizens. In particular, scholarship has focused on the inherently autonomous nature of street-level work and the discretion these agents of the state possess. Work in this area has traditionally relied on teachers, social workers, and police officers as sources for empirical study of how formal and informal social structures influence the use of discretion by SLBs. Recent scholarship, and coverage of New York City's stop and frisk policy, has renewed interest in the role that SLBs play in constructing justice for the citizens they encounter. In this review, we consider the street-level-bureaucracy scholarship and articulate how insights from this literature inform our current understanding of investigatory police stops, such as those stemming from the stop and frisk policy in place in New York.

Books Written:

(2019) Organizational Obliviousness: Entrenched Resistance to Gender Integration in the Military, Cambridge University Press

Exploring efforts to integrate women into combat forces in the military, we investigate how resistance to equity becomes entrenched, ultimately excluding women from being full participants in the workplace. Based on focus groups and surveys with members of Special Operations, we found most of the resistance is rooted in traditional gender stereotypes that are often bolstered through organizational policies and practices. The subtlety of these practices often renders them invisible. We refer to this invisibility as organizational obliviousness. Obliviousness exists at the individual level, it becomes reinforced at the cultural level, and, in turn, cultural practices are entrenched institutionally by policies. Organizational obliviousness may not be malicious or done to actively exclude or harm, but the end result is that it does both. Throughout this Element we trace the ways that organizational obliviousness shapes individuals, culture, and institutional practices throughout the organization.

Media Appearances:

Radio Appearances:

(2019) KCUR

Segment 2, beginning at 27:57: Americans' understanding of public service has shifted, says KU vice chancellor. No better plea for public service has been crafted than President Kennedy's "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." We asked if that message is still resonating with today's young professionals. Shannon Portillo, assistant vice chancellor of Undergraduate Programs at the University of Kansas Edwards Campus and associate professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration

(2015) KCUR

The U.S. Secretary of Defense recently announced that as of January 2016, all gender-based restrictions on military service will be lifted. Despite this change, research by the Women's Foundation of Kansas City in conjunction with the University of Kansas and the Army Research Institute shows that females still face barriers within the military.