Universiteit Leiden

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‘Hetero norm is deeply ingrained, including among LGBT people’

Jojanneke van der Toorn, professor by special appointment in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Workplace Inclusion at Leiden University, states that it is difficult to create an inclusive work environment. This is partly due to the fact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have themselves been socialised in line with hetero norms. Inaugural lecture on 6 April.

Seemingly tolerant climate

People feel happiest at work if they are appreciated and accepted. Both this and the moral appeal to equal access and treatment call for an inclusive workplace. However, such a workplace is hard to realise because a seemingly tolerant climate is in fact not always that tolerant. Even those in favour of gay marriage might disapprove of a gay couple kissing in the streets, says Jojanneke van der Toorn, who has been appointed to a joint chair of Leiden University, Workplace Pride and KPN. But it is still important to pursue inclusiveness.

Disadvantaged no matter what

All in all, LGBT people never have it easy in their workplace, says Van der Toor, neither if they remain ‘in the closet’ nor if they come out. The first has the disadvantage that LGBT people cannot be themselves and always need to choose their words carefully. Having a friendly relationship with colleagues includes telling each other how and with whom you live, and how and with whom you spent your weekend. However, the second option also has  disadvantages, for example the (unconscious) prejudices of others that LGTB people encounter. One of the underlying motives for these prejudiced reactions is, as shown by research, the so-called ‘justification of the system’.  

Justifying the system

In short, the theory argues that a great majority of people are motivated to view the world in which they are living (the system) as fair and just, because this gives them a sense of security and safety. People often object to changes and so try to justify the status quo, even when this system rejects certain groups, such as LGBT people. Such negative aspects of the system are denied or downplayed, strangely enough by those who belong to the rejected groups as well; justifying the system is also an indication that people don’t like to fall outside the system. ‘The discrimination against LGBT people isn’t that bad,’ was a comment by a member of this group who definitely experiences discrimination.


Such mechanisms make it difficult to create a truly inclusive work environment. In the coming years, Van der Toorn will focus on doing just that, using evidence-based principles. Inclusiveness offers many opportunities for employers and organisations. Of that Van der Toorn is convinced.


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