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Blog: 'Public leadership: fighting racism and fostering inclusiveness'

In response to George Floyd’s violent death in Minneapolis and the worldwide mass protests against discrimination and institutional racism, the Leiden Leadership Centre endorses the call of Hester Bijl, Vice Rector Maginificus of Leiden University to recognize and address racism and inequality.

Outtake from the blog of Lara van Osch (Leiden Leadership Centre)

Public administration research shows that discrimination plays a role within (public) organizations, as well as in the relationship between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, between (public) organizations and citizens and society more broadly. How to value the differences between your employees? How to ensure that job seekers of color have the same job prospects as their white counterparts? And how to ensure that public service is responsive to the diversity in society? Public leadership can make a difference in this regard. In this blog, we elaborate upon four ways in which public leadership contributes to fighting racism and enhancing inclusion.

Inclusive Leadership within (Public) Organizations

How does public leadership contribute to fighting racism and enhancing inclusion within public organizations?

Inclusive Leadership

Inclusive leadership is required to appreciate the diversity of the employees (Ashikali, Groeneveld & Kuipers, 2020; Randel et al., 2018). Employees must feel that they can be themselves and be treated as insiders. Differences between employees can be utilized and lessons can be learned from and with each other. Inclusive leadership encourages to discuss and utilize different points of view, perspectives and backgrounds, and to involve all employees equally in the team.

Creating a Safe Work Environment

Related to inclusive leadership is leadership that creates psychological safety. Managers play a crucial role in creating a work environment in which employees feel safe, dare to express their opinion and do not fear harassment or discrimination. Psychological safety is not only valuable in itself, but it is also linked to positive outcomes such as motivation and engagement of individual employees as well as team and organizational learning. Psychological safety is a necessary condition for realizing the full potential of a diverse workforce. Psychological safety should therefore be a central theme in the selection and assessment of public leaders. Read more about the research on psychological safety by Prof. Dr. Sandra Groeneveld and Maria Tiggelaar here (in Dutch).

Public Leadership which impacts on Dutch Society

Above we discussed how leadership makes a difference within (public) organizations. However, given the nature of discrimination and institutional racism, it is also very important to pay attention to the role of public leadership in the relationship between public organizations and Dutch citizens. After all, public leadership is leadership that has an impact on the public sphere.

Enhancing Diversity

Public leadership contributes to fight racism by recruiting a diverse group of employees, also for internships and for top positions. Diversity must be understood as taking into account (the interrelation of) gender, race, class, sexuality and other axes of the so-called intersectional model (Breslin, Pandey & Riccucci, 2017).

Different Approach

Recruiting a diverse group of employees not only leads to equal opportunities for marginalized groups, but also to a more representative group of service providers and therewith the possibility to connect the diversity of the public organization to the diversity in society. Diversity, inclusion and representativeness ensure a different approach to different social groups and thus combat discrimination and inequality. Citizens experience public services in a more positive way, partly because of the symbolic effect of representation, partly because the work is carried out differently and better suits different groups of people.


Ashikali, T., Groeneveld, S., & Kuipers, B. (2020). The Role of Inclusive Leadership in Supporting an Inclusive Climate in Diverse Public Sector Teams. Review of Public Personnel Administration, 0734371X1989972.

Breslin, R., Pandey, S., & Riccucci, N. (2017). Intersectionality in Public Leadership Research: A Review and Future Research Agenda. Review of Public Personnel Administration, 37(2), 160-182.

Ashikali, T., & Groeneveld, S. (2018). Management van diversiteit. In: Noort, W. van, Groeneveld, S., Hoek, M. van der, Schalk, J., & Voet, J. van der, Publiek management, p.211-226. Bussum: Uitgeverij Coutinho.

Randel, A., Galvin, B., Shore, L., Ehrhart, K., Chung, B., Dean, M., & Kedharnath, U. (2018). Inclusive leadership: Realizing positive outcomes through belongingness and being valued for uniqueness. Human Resource Management Review, 28(2), 190-203.

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