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Passive and Active Diversity in Inclusive Leadership – The Research

Despite the efforts of scholars, diversity professionals and policymakers over the past century, structural inequalities still exist that disadvantage black, indigenous, people of colour (BIPOC) and women.  These often unseen barriers are present throughout society, including in private and public organisations. New research has looked at the impact of passive and active forms of diversity management and it’s impact on inclusive leadership…

Diversity management

Changing work cultures and policies that have supported racial and gender-specific discrimination for decades is highly challenging. Diversity management focuses on creating equal opportunities and access for a variety of different social groups in order to:

  • Promote workforce representation
  • Improve perceived organisational justice to ensure that all employees feel as though they are being treated fairly by their organisation
  • Reduce discriminatory policies and behaviours
  • Increase social justice, which refers to perceptions of fairness across society (in housing, opportunities, access to resources, etc.)

Diversity management programmes also try to address lower performance ratings, the gender pay gap and reduced career development opportunities that many people commonly experience in comparison to their white male colleagues.

Passive and active diversity management

Passive diversity and active diversity management are the two primary types of initiatives that organisations use to create a more inclusive and equitable workplace.

Passive diversity

Passive diversity refers to activities that represent a greater mix of people in recruiting or promotional materials, for example. The aim is to make organisations more attractive to the full spectrum of society and increase recruiting and hiring of employees from different demographic backgrounds without actively having a positive discrimination scheme. The Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 and the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 in the US, for example, support passive diversity initiatives in federal agencies and other public organisations.
Over time, these initiatives and laws have reduced sexual, racial, religious and age-related segregation.

Active diversity management

Active diversity management focuses on direct action to create a more diverse workforce, such as specifically recruiting from different sections of the community and purposefully creating more diverse work teams.

Leaders can also foster diversity by, for example,:

  • Enforcing family-friendly policies that benefit women.
  • Facilitating diversity training designed to reduce implicit bias and discrimination.
  • Providing every employee with the opportunity to participate in career advancement programmes which often include mentoring.

Active diversity management is beneficial, but again there are some associated issues:

  • Many organisations are not genuinely invested and only facilitate diversity initiatives to avoid potential discrimination lawsuits.
  • BIPOC and women who make use of active diversity resources tend to be perceived as being less competent, which reduces their chances of being promoted.
  • Some people believe that diversity programmes promote reverse discrimination.
diversity management

Inclusive management practices

Inclusive leaders with a positive attitude towards diversity goals are an important asset for organisations. They create work environments where minorities and women feel safe. Celebrating and valuing differences among employees makes everyone feel that they belong. Such leaders also promote collaborative teamwork and provide equitable access to learning opportunities.

Previous research

Previous research looking at the importance of diversity management designed to reduce discrimination and the benefits of inclusive leadership has found that:

  • Integrating diverse workforces into every aspect of the organisation to create an inclusive work environment creates a range of benefits.
  • To maintain organisational justice, employee performance appraisals for promotions need to be fairly conducted, based on work efforts and outcomes and rewards need to be distributed equitably.
  • Improperly managed passive diversity that results in tokenism often makes minorities feel less visible and valued, which excludes them even further.
  • Female leaders in male-dominated work environments tend to receive less cooperation from colleagues and often have a lower salary than male peers in equivalent leadership positions.
  • Inclusive leadership is necessary to meet employees’ needs for belonging.
  • Having inclusive leaders ensures that the workplace is representative of society’s diverse demographic.

A new study

A new study by researchers from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Texas at Dallas in the United States has looked at organisational justice and the effects of:
• Active diversity management
• Passive diversity
• Inclusive leadership practices

diversity management


The study found that:

  • Intentionally hiring more black, indigenous, people of colour and women whilst using active diversity management to promote diverse work groups is often perceived as unfair by white men (the majority group). This also appears to explain persistent minority pay gaps and fewer promotions to leadership roles, due to the assumption that their work performance is over-valued and advancement is undeserved.
  • A sole focus on increasing the number of minority employees through practices like targeted recruitment programmes is not effective enough to achieve inclusivity and organisational justice.
  • Only inclusive leadership, where the attitude is one of inclusivity, mutual involvement and fairness, was found to counter discriminatory behaviour and create equity throughout the organisation.

Creating an equitable, diverse work environment with perceived organisational justice is achievable when leaders actively work towards establishing an inclusive mindset that focuses on giving everyone a sense of belonging.


Hoang, T., Suh, J., & Sabharwal, M. Beyond a Numbers Game? Impact of Diversity and Inclusion on the Perception of Organizational Justice. Public Administration Review. 82, 3. 537-555

Organisational development and diversity from a practitioner perspective

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