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Diversity and inclusion: what do you think?

Diversity and inclusion are two of Leiden University’s core values, and Leiden Law School has previously announced its ambition to improve both within its education and teaching. Not only does our faculty have a website dedicated to this subject – we also have our very own Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator.

What do ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ actually mean?

Why do diversity and inclusion actually matter? Team 5 from the Kernvisie legal bachelor's programmes started by asking this question. We thoroughly examined all the policy documents, but actually gained most of our information by talking to people from the faculty. And what did we learn? While it’s a topical issue across all sections of the organisation, there are major discrepancies in what the two terms are understood to mean.


Equality, dignity, respect and feeling welcome: these are all words that crop up in conversations about inclusion. However, not everybody interprets these terms in the same way. Nowadays, people often refer to 'feeling safe enough to have the conversation', but opinions differ on what that specifically means and the conditions that enable it.


To some people, diversity refers to the proportion of men to women, while to others it’s about ethnic and cultural differences. And some associate diversity with differences in learning styles, the neurological spectrum and physical disabilities. Sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and religious beliefs are also frequently discussed. But while diversity is a very topical issue, the difference in focus can be immense. Participants in these conversations often skip to whether and how diversity should be accommodated, without first of all clarifying what they actually understand ‘diversity’ to mean.

Formal definitions

We can be guided by formal definitions of diversity and inclusion. However, what’s more important is what these concepts mean to the people affected by them. Which questions are being asked? What really matters? Where are the opportunities and dangers? Which roles do these concepts play?

Leiden University's Diversity and Inclusion Expertise Office states the following: ‘Diversity is about the presence of students and staff with different experiences, ideas and perspectives. As a university, we want to reflect society’s diversity in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, health, religion, age and socioeconomic background.’[1]  

We can set out our ambition to reflect society as a university in a policy document, but we still need to live up to that ambition in practice. And we can only do that by engaging with the subject and being aware of the current situation.

Active engagement and commitment

Reflecting society’s diversity involves operating inclusively. It requires active engagement and commitment from everyone within the faculty, and that’s not always a given. On top of that, we already have a lot of work pressure. While we agree on the importance of diversity and inclusion, the question remains as to why we need to actively engage with and invest our precious time in it.

The right thing to do vs. the smart thing to do

The answer to that question is twofold: it’s both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. It’s the right thing to do because we’re a public educational institution. We have a moral and social duty to enable anyone willing and able to do so to excel at Leiden University. Leiden Law School has educated many lawyers who have risen to powerful positions within Dutch society. We prepare students for a society with an ever-growing demand for a diverse, inclusive culture. Nowadays, for example, companies have to comply with both national and European legislation. [2] 

As a university, we promise to teach our students about the world. But we can only fulfil that promise if we include the world. And that’s why it’s also the smart thing to do. We equip our students with the skills they will need on the labour market. However, the university is also an employer. Talented individuals are not restricted to one area of society – they can be found everywhere. Furthermore, diverse teams are increasingly proving to be more innovative and creative. [3] We have to embrace diversity and operate inclusively if we want to attract and retain talented individuals, as well as enable them to excel.

Tell us what you think!

Team 5 has formulated four questions on the subject of diversity and inclusion: why, for what purpose, what, how and who. By now, we have a decent grasp of the ‘why’ (it's both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do) and the ‘for what purpose’ (to remain an institution that provides excellent teaching and conducts excellent research). But what should we do, how should we do it and who should do it? The Kernvisie legal bachelor’s programmes affects a specific part of our curriculum, while the scope of diversity and inclusion is much broader and affects our student population, teaching and workforce. And since the entire organisation is impacted, the entire organisation also needs to be engaged. We need you in order to achieve that, and we encourage you to share your ideas with us. Tell us what resonates, what you think, where you see opportunities and where the obstacles lie by filling in this questionnaire. You can do this now or at another time. You can also speak to someone from our team or send us an email. There’s no closing date for this questionnaire as we don’t expect our dialogue on diversity and inclusion to end in the foreseeable future. So, please tell us: what do you think?

Danielle Chevalier
Chair, Team 5

Co-author: Tessa van Buchem

[1] https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/binaries/content/assets/algemeen/diversiteit/werkplan-di-2020---nl.pdf
[2] European directives at commission.europa.eu and national laws at rvo.nl.
[3] A diverse workforce and inclusive business environment is highly valuable; McKinsey research has repeatedly shown how companies with higher levels of gender and ethnic diversity turn out to be more successful. See: V. Hunt, S. Dixon-Fyle, S. Prince & K. Dolan 2020, ‘Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters’, McKinsey & Company, p. 13.
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