Research on representative bureaucracy highlights the importance of translating passive into active representation. But what is the motivational basis that underlies this translation? Drawing on theories of social identity and intergroup behavior, we argue that bureaucrats belonging to underrepresented groups actively represent their own group because of a desire for positive distinctiveness. Two large-scale conjoint experiments were performed using a unique sample of 1,929 frontline investigators in the National Police in South Korea. Results show that investigator-accuser gender match per se did not cause female investigators to prioritize female accusers of assault more than male investigators did. But once the assaults were manipulated to involve salient female disadvantages that lower women’s status – e.g., intimate partner violence –, female accusers were more likely to be prioritized by female investigators. Our findings suggest that active representation is not unbounded partiality but a lever that guards against inequitable group disparities.
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