In this paper we develop a theoretical framework about how leaders help shape the impact of HR diversity practices on employee inclusion. So far, the HR literature has given leaders a relatively passive role in that they are mainly seen as enactors and communicators of HR policies and practices. We expand this view by suggesting that leaders can respond to HR's (diversity) practices with various levels of alignment (or misalignment), and clarify the respective implications for felt inclusion. Informed by literature on multiple identities at work, we derive four potential responses of leaders to HR's diversity practices—deletion, compartmentalization, aggregation, and integration. We show how these responses shape the effects of diversity practices on employee inclusion, and in doing so, we also question a commonly held assumption that leaders' full alignment with HR's diversity practices is the most conducive for employees' felt inclusion. Our framework has important implications for theory and practice, as it specifies the role of leaders in leveraging the inclusive potential of HR diversity practices.
As workforces are becoming increasingly diverse, organizations are investing considerable efforts into Human Resources (HR) policies and practices to manage diversity (i.e., diversity practices; Nishii, Shemla, Khattab, & Paluch, forthcoming). These initiatives are important, as research has shown that despite the benefits that diversity may bring in terms of innovation and improved decision making, actual or perceived differences among organizational members—when left unmanaged—can also lead to status distinctions, subgrouping, outgroup discrimination (Shemla, Meyer, Greer, & Jehn, 2014; Van Dijk, Van Engen, & Van Knippenberg, 2012; Van Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007), and implicit biases against certain groups (e.g., Carton & Rosette, 2011). For instance, work on the glass ceiling and glass cliff suggest the importance of managing the barriers for women and ethnic minority groups to reach and maintain managerial positions (Cook & Glass, 2014; Ryan & Haslam, 2007). Because of the potential downside of diversity, diversity practices have thus traditionally focused on reducing biases that may cause discrimination or on increasing the managerial representation of minorities (e.g., through a quota) (Ely & Thomas, 2001). In this paper, we suggest to focus on employee inclusion as an outcome of diversity practices. Whereas a focus on ensuring fairness is typically concerned with the objective reality of specific, often marginalized, groups (e.g., in terms of gender, race), a focus on creating inclusion (Nishii, 2013) emphasizes the extent to which all individuals feel they can express who they are and thus also how they are different from others (also considering deep-level differences such as values, personality, and strengths; Veestraeten, 2016). Thus, emphasizing inclusion as an outcome captures both minority and majority employees' reality, turning both groups into beneficiaries of the diversity practices. We thus argue that in order to understand whether diversity practices are valuable in diverse work contexts, we need to expand our focus from elimination of biases and fairness to one of employee inclusion.