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Jojanneke van der Toorn organises international Workpride conference

Professor Jojanneke van der Toorn has held the chair in LGBT workplace inclusion for five years. To celebrate, organised an international online conference on workplace inclusion, in cooperation with Workplace Pride that was hosted by the university on 20 and 21 May.

The abbreviation LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) has expanded over the past five years to include the letters I and Q and the symbol +. The letters refer to intersex and queer people, and the + to all others whose gender identity, gender expression, sexuality or gender characteristics fall outside society’s perceived norm.

We catch up with Van der Toorn halfway through the two-day conference, as she looks for a terrace in Leiden to celebrate the successful completion of day one and the five-year anniversary of her chair. This chair was established by Leiden University and Workplace Pride, a foundation committed to an inclusive workplace for LHBTIQ+ people.

A photo of Jojanneke van der Toorn at another Workplace Pride event.
Jojanneke van der Toorn at another Workplace Pride event

Advantages of an online event

Van der Toorn is pleased with how the first day went. A total of 175 guests – from researchers and students to employers, policymakers and interest groups – are attending the conference, around 30 of whom are making a substantive contribution. It is a diverse group, with people taking part from Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa. ‘The great thing about an online conference is that it is incredibly easy to take part because no one has to travel,’ says Van der Toorn. ‘And thanks to the support of our sponsors KPN and Elsevier, participation was also free.’

Importance of context

While it is undisputable that LGBTIQ people are more accepted in Europe and North America than elsewhere in the world, that does not mean that the hard work there is over. ‘The Dutch often think that issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity are not relevant to the workplace, but they most definitely are. The workplace is heteronormative, as is society, and this manifests itself in exclusion, often in subtle ways. Organisations can take steps by exposing and addressing this heteronormativity in their organisational policy, attitudes and behaviour, and by systematically assessing the situation with regard to inclusion and inequality. They can then use these results to take targeted action.’ 

Data collection is a contentious topic

The panel session on 20 May discussed the collection of sensitive employee data, in particular the tension between the pursuit of inclusion on the one hand, and the protection of employees’ privacy on the other. Van der Toorn: ‘Context obviously plays a major role here. In countries where homosexuality is prohibited by law, LGBTQ+ employees will be less inclined to have their sexual orientation or gender identity recorded in their personnel file or to disclose it in an internal survey. But I would expect that trust in the employer is a factor everywhere.’

Inclusion is also a moral issue

Organisations attach great importance to the business case for diversity and inclusion, mainly because a diverse and inclusive workplace stimulates creativity and productivity. By doing so, they emphasise the business side of things. Van der Toorn believes that employers should not just focus on business considerations, but also on the moral dimension: everyone should be able to feel comfortable working at their organisation. 

Making contacts

The professor emphasises that the conference is not only an opportunity to take stock of research, but also to meet new people and stay connected. ‘The conference brings together researchers from different disciplines who usually wouldn’t come across each other. Now they have a chance to connect,’ says Van der Toorn. ‘It is also a great opportunity for exchange between science and practice, helping us to move closer towards a truly inclusive workplace.’

Now that’s a gift that you can enjoy for years to come.

Text: Corine Hendriks

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