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Managers play an important role in inclusiveness in organisations

Team leaders and other immediate supervisors play an important role in facilitating inclusiveness within public organisations. This is the finding of research by public administration expert Tanachia Ashikali. PhD defence 20 November.

Many organisations are working hard to make their staff body more inclusive. Such considerations as representativeness and legitimacy play a major role, particularly in public organisations. They look for new staff with a migration background, for example, or a functional disability or from a different socio-economic class. That way they hope that the organisation will better reflect society, but they also want to encourage diversity in the thinking within the organisation.  

Crucial role

Research by public administration specialist Tanachia Ashikali shows that those with direct management responsibilities play a crucial role in the success of these efforts towards a more inclusive organisation. She reaches this conclusion on the basis of large-scale and representative studies among staff and team leaders within different organisations, including central government.

Safe environment

There are two different ways a team leader can stimulate and safeguard inclusiveness within a team, Ashikali says. At knowledge level he or she can make sure there is room for new ideas. It is more than likely that new members of staff with adifferent previous experience or cultural background will look at the work differently. Ashkali says, 'Good inclusive leadership makes sure that there is a safe environment within a team in which everyone can put forward their ideas and know they will be listened to.' 

Valued team members

At relationship level, too, the team leader can stimulate inclusiveness, in particular by showing that each employee is a valued member of the team. 'It's about making sure that every team member can take part in formal and informal team activities, taking into account individual differences, for example by seeing that in a meeting everyone has the chance to speak at least once. To achieve real inclusiveness, it is important that both aspects are encouraged and supported.'  

More than just HRM policy

Above all, Ashikali's research shows that it is not enough to draw up policy at organisational level alone to promote inclusiveness within an organisation. Ashikali: 'If you really want a more inclusive organisation, then you cannot just rely on organisation-wide HRM policy. What you see is that a lot of organisations and companies aim for certain percentages of employees with a migration background. However, this is doomed to failure if you don't make sure that these new employees feel welcome. This is mainly a task for the team leaders.’

Leiden University is a 'special context'

What does this research say about Ashikali’s own employer, Leiden University? 'A university is a special context,' she says. 'At a university professors often have a managerial role by default. In many cases they are the leaders of a research group made up of assistant professors lecturers, postdocs and PhD candidates. At the same time, the majority of these professors have no management training and haven't been selected for their capabilities in this area. It's important to pay attention to developing their leadership   skills but, given the heavy workload, it's not usually a priority. Attention needs to be paid to how the work processes are  structured.' 

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