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07.07 The role of organizational diversity approaches and employee diversity ideologies in LGBTI+ inclusion in organizations

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Aim of the project

 The aims of this project are to contribute to theorizing and empirical research on the inclusion of minorities in the workplace. To this end, we will focus on the inclusion of LGBTI+ employees, a relatively invisible and understudied employee group. Specifically, this project will examine how heteronormativity manifests in people’s diversity ideologies (identity-blind vs. identity conscious), how these ideologies in turn inform their approaches toward and support for LGBTI+ inclusion initiatives, and what are the intended and unintended consequences of these initiatives for LGBTI+ employees (in terms of their sense of inclusion, work-related stress, organizational commitment and turn-over intentions). As such, the project provides insight into the psychological (mis)conceptions that shape diversity management programs at work, the psychological experience of LGBT+ employees in reaction to these programs, and the ways in which their sustainable cooperation can be fostered.

Theoretical Background

An inclusive organizational climate is crucial to the successful management of a diverse workplace, but much remains unknown about how to effectively create such a climate. Inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI+) employees presents a particular challenge to these efforts, as members of this group are different in relatively invisible ways (Clair, Beatty, & MacLean, 2005; Van der Toorn, 2019). Unfortunately, all too often, organizational efforts rely on common sense and the assumption that there’s no harm in trying, while the available evidence suggests that unsubstantiated diversity initiatives can backfire (Cramwinckel et al., 2018; Dobbin & Kalev, 2016; Ellemers et al., 2018) and may give rise to unintended side-effects that may overshadow or undo their positive effects (e.g., Kaiser et al., 2013), thereby undermining the sustainability of the diversity policy. In addition, approaches that work for one employee group do not necessarily work for other groups (Gündemir, Martin, & Homan, 2019).

Previous work has indicated the benefits of a climate for inclusion. For example, diverse teams enjoy more beneficial work outcomes in such a climate and employees experience more affective commitment to the organization (Bodia et al., 2018; Nishii, 2013). Importantly, these benefits are not limited to minority group members alone, extending also to the majority group. Two prominent competing approaches to managing diversity that have been distinguished in the literature are the identity-blind and identity-conscious approaches (Gündemir, Martin, & Homan, 2019). Both approaches have the ultimate goal of contributing to equality and inclusion, but the identity-blind approach (e.g., colorblindness or gender-blindness) stresses that group differences should be ignored when making decisions and that people should be treated equally as individuals, whereas the identity-conscious approach emphasizes that group differences should be acknowledged and even celebrated. This project will hone in on the underlying mechanisms of LGBTI+ workplace inclusion by examining the diversity approaches and ideologies in relation to LGBTI+ employees.

While most organizations implement identity-blind programs (Ely & Thomas, 2001), a recent study demonstrated that an organizational climate for inclusion emerges when an organization explicitly incorporates social identity into its human resource decisions (i.e., through identity-conscious programs; Li et al., 2019). Yet unknown, however, is whether (communicating about) identity-conscious programs (such as an organization’s LGBTI+ ERG) also affect a sense of inclusion (i.e., the feeling that one belongs and can be oneself at work), and whether different groups of employees are affected differently. Another gap in the literature stems from its relative focus on top-down rather than bottom-up processes in shaping inclusion, whereas the extent to which employees themselves endorse an identity-conscious versus identity-blind diversity ideology should also determine the effectiveness of diversity programs (Gündemir, Martin, & Homan, 2019). In this project, we hypothesize that organizations’ identity-conscious diversity approach predicts employees’ sense of inclusion and related individual-level outcomes that are important conditions for sustainable cooperation, especially if the organization’s diversity approach matches employees’ individually-held ideologies. 

Research Design

This project uses a mixed-methods approach including (a) surveys and semi-structured interviews to assess organizations’ diversity approaches and HR-managers’ reasoning for implementing using identity-conscious and/or identity-blind programs, and (b) surveys and vignette experiments assessing the interaction between the organization’s (perceived) diversity approach and employees’ individually held diversity ideologies on employees’ sense of inclusion in the organization. Study 1 is a qualitative study using semi-structured interviews to examine HR-professionals’ reasoning for using identity-conscious and/or identity-blind programs. Building on insights from this study, Studies 2 and 3 will use surveys to test whether HR-professionals more strongly endorse identity-blind diversity programs for managing invisible (vs. visible) diversity, whether this is especially so in relation to stigmatized groups such as LGBT+ employees, and when they perceive social identities as belonging to the private domain. Participants in Studies 1 and 2 will be recruited through Workplace Pride and the Netherlands Inclusiveness Monitor. Participants in Study 3 will be Dutch HR-professionals in training (recruited through their respective educational institutes). In a nationally representative sample of Dutch employees (recruited through the LISS-panel), Study 4 will manipulate the perceived privacy of sexual orientation and gender identity and test whether this decreases the perceived relevance of LGBT+ identities to the workplace and, therefore, increases endorsement of identity-blind diversity approaches. Using survey data that are currently being collected by the Netherlands Inclusiveness Monitor, Study 5 will test whether LGBT+ employees on average endorse identity-conscious over identity-blind ideology, and whether employees feel more included when their organization’s diversity approach matches their diversity ideology. Study 6, using a vignette experiment, will test whether communicating a policy decision to protect employee privacy (by not registering sexual orientation) vs. communicating a policy decision to enhance employee equality (by registering sexual orientation) will negatively affect sexual minorities’ (but not majorities’) sense of inclusion and affective commitment, which is mediated by perceptions of a negative sexual diversity climate. In Study 7, using a vignette experiment, we will test how communicating about the identity-conscious efforts of the organization’s ERG toward enhancing LGBTI+ workplace inclusion increases anticipated feelings of inclusion and commitment, reduces work-related stress and turn-over intentions among LGBT+ employees, and increases their motivation to interact with and collaborate with colleagues (who are and aren’t members of the ERG themselves).

Project stakeholders

dr. Seval Gündemir (Work & Organizational Psychology, UvA)

prof. dr. Marieke van den Brink (Gender Studies, RU)


  • Discipline
    Social Psychology
  • Location
    Utrecht University, Faculty of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Department of Social, Health and Organizational Psychology


Bodla, A. A., Tang, N., Jiang, W., & Tian, L. (2018). Diversity and creativity in cross-national teams: The role of team knowledge sharing and inclusive climate. Journal of Management & Organization24(5), 711-729.

Cramwinckel, F. M., Scheepers, D. T., & Van der Toorn, J. (2018). Interventions to reduce blatant and subtle sexual orientation and gender identity prejudice (SOGIP): Current knowledge and future directions. Social Issues and Policy Review12(1), 183-217.

Clair, J. A., Beatty, J. E., & MacLean, T. L. (2005). Out of sight but not out of mind: Managing invisible social identities in the workplace. Academy of Management Review30(1), 78-95.

Dobbin, F., & Kalev, A. (2016). Why diversity programs fail. Harvard Business Review94(7-8), 52-60.

Ellemers, N., Şahin, O., Jansen, W. S., & Van der Toorn, J. (2018). Naar effectief diversiteitsbeleid: het bouwen van bruggen tussen wetenschap en praktijk. Gedrag en Organisatie31(4), 409-428.

Ely, R. J., & Thomas, D. A. (2001). Cultural diversity at work: The effects of diversity perspectives on workgroup processes and outcomes. Administrative Science Quarterly46(2), 229-273.

Gündemir, S., Martin, A. E., & Homan, A. C. (2019). Understanding diversity ideologies from the target's perspective: A review and future directions. Frontiers in Psychology10, 282.

Kaiser, C. R., Major, B., Jurcevic, I., Dover, T. L., Brady, L. M., & Shapiro, J. R. (2013). Presumed fair: Ironic effects of organizational diversity structures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology104(3), 504-519.

Li, Y., Perera, S., Kulik, C. T., & Metz, I. (2019). Inclusion climate: A multilevel investigation of its antecedents and consequences. Human Resource Management58(4), 353-369.

Nishii, L. H. (2013). The benefits of climate for inclusion for gender-diverse groups. Academy of Management Journal56(6), 1754-1774.

Van der Toorn, J. (2019). Naar een inclusieve werkvloer: Seksuele oriëntatie en genderidentiteit op het werk. Gedrag & Organisatie, 32, 162-180.