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Tokenism and 5 Ways to Avoid It in Your DEI Efforts

Tokenism and 5 Ways to Avoid It in Your DEI Efforts

Tokenism is dangerous to your diversity efforts and your culture. Prevent it from happening with proper DEI efforts.

We all know that diversity is great for our organizations. Having a diverse team leads to higher levels of innovation, more productivity, and happier employees. It’s a ripple effect that ultimately leads to higher employee retention and bigger profit margins. It’s a win-win for everybody involved! But is there a wrong way to go about diversifying your hiring efforts? If you aren’t careful, your DEI efforts may be doing more harm than good. You could even be enabling tokenism.

In this blog we define tokenism, review the differences between diversity and inclusion, explain why tokenism is so dangerous, and give you five ways to avoid tokenism at your workplace.


Defining DEI

Before we continue learning about the dangers of tokenism, we must answer these questions: What exactly is diversity? And how does diversity differ from equity and inclusion?

Diversity is having employees from various different backgrounds working for an organization. We often associate diversity with visible differences such as race, gender, or age. While this is true, diversity also encompasses invisible qualities like sexual orientation, religion, or mental disability.

Equity is giving employees fair opportunity for success in their roles based on their individual needs. Not to be confused with equality, equity isn’t about equal opportunity and access to the same resources. Equity acknowledges that not every employee has the same privileges, and helps them to access opportunities by providing additional resources if needed.

Inclusion is having a work environment that makes people feel respected, valued, heard, supported, and accepted. Inclusive environments are safe spaces for any employee to be their authentic selves no matter who they are.

DEI Expert Vernã Myers gives us a great analogy that breaks it down perfectly. Diversity is inviting everybody to the party, no matter who they are. Equity is making sure that everybody has the ability and resources to get to the party and get inside. Inclusion is being asked to dance or offered refreshments. There are few people who don’t know what it’s like to stand in the corner at a party, watching everybody else have fun. The people having the party control inclusivity.


Tokenism is dangerous to your diversity efforts and your culture. Prevent it from happening with proper DEI efforts.


What is Tokenism?

You might think that your diversity efforts are enough. You’ve hit your diversity quota and you’ve ticked the “diversity” box. You’re done, right? Not quite. Simply hiring an employee from an underrepresented group doesn’t equate to diversity.

By definition, tokenism is a symbolic effort to hire a small number of people from underrepresented groups to appear as if there is equality within a workplace. There is a huge difference between being diverse in your hiring efforts and seeming diverse in your hiring efforts. Appearing diverse to prevent criticism leads to tokenism and frustrated employees feeling like they were only hired to check a diversity box.


The Dangers of Tokenism

Tokenism has absolutely devastating effects on employees from underrepresented groups. It causes minority employees to doubt their talents, leading them to develop serious imposter syndrome. They may begin to believe that they aren’t actually great, and that they were only hired because they were a diverse candidate. Token employees also have higher visibility,  considering they are often the “only” person like them in a room. This hinders them from being their true, authentic selves out of fear of how their actions or words will be perceived by others. This leads to great levels of performance pressure. Token employees might also be fearful that they might reinforce negative stereotypes associated with the underrepresented group in which they belong due to high visibility, causing high anxiety.

Additionally, token employees have to worry about their health and safety more so than other employees. These employees face higher levels of depression and stress. They are also more dissatisfied and less committed to their work compared to other employees. When it comes to token women and racial minorities, they are more likely to experience sexual harassment or discrimination when compared to the same underrepresented groups in more balanced working environments.

The list of dangers doesn’t stop there. Tokenism doesn’t just affect token employees – it affects the entire company. If employees feel that they are token hires who are there to tick a “diversity” box, they will not stay with a company for long. Tokenism is terrible for employee retention. You’ll also have the problem of your employees not trusting you. Do you think lack of trust only comes from token employees? Think again. If other employees are seeing tokenism happening within their organizations, it may be difficult for them to sit back and watch it happen. Tokenism can destroy your culture.


5 Ways to Avoid Tokenism



1. Diversity is More Than Just a Quota

Remember that diversity is not a box to tick. Diversity efforts are important, but don’t focus too much on the statistics. Instead of focusing on hiring specific people from underrepresented groups, why don’t you start by asking yourself how you can make your hiring process more inclusive from the start? Create job descriptions that appeal to diverse candidates. Implement anti-bias hiring tools like talent assessments. Stop looking at resumes that breed bias. If you start making your hiring efforts more inclusive from the get-go, diversity is sure to follow. Make sure you are including the EI in DEI.


2. Allow Diverse Employees to Be Decision-Makers

There is clear underrepresentation of minorities in leadership positions within companies. This means that they usually aren’t present when decisions are being made. Providing diverse employees a seat at the table is crucial. Allow them to not only be in the room when decisions are being made, but let them be a part of making those decisions. By including them in the conversation, you’ll avoid tokenism and ensure that your diversity efforts matter.


3. Don’t Force Employees to be Spokespeople for Their Communities

Token employees are often made spokespeople for the underrepresented groups they belong to. It’s important to recognize that diverse employees are first and foremost individuals. While we can and should encourage employees to voice their opinions and beliefs on certain subjects, the lived experience of that one employee will not be reflective of that group as a whole. Be sure to listen carefully to any feedback or insight this employee has, and avoid expressing any positive or negative stereotypes attached to an employee’s minority group. Also be certain that an employee even wants to be a spokesperson and feels comfortable doing so.


4. Diversity is an ‘All Hands On Deck’ Effort

Sure, it’s great to create a team dedicated to diversity and inclusion efforts. Realizing there is a problem that needs to be fixed is Step #1! However, everybody needs to be on board – especially leadership. What is the point of launching a DEI initiative if upper management isn’t going to sign off on it or be a part of it? When creating a diversity task force, be sure to have a balanced panel of diverse employees and ensure that this team includes company leaders who will take the project seriously and see to it that it’s successful.


5. Don’t Fake Your Diversity

One of the worst things you can do is display imagery of diverse teams on your website and social media platforms when the actual make-up of your team doesn’t reflect that. It’s OK to acknowledge that your team isn’t diverse, but that you’re working on it. Transparency about your DEI efforts goes a long way. If you market your workplace as being diverse when it’s not, you are contributing towards tokenism and setting yourself up for backlash by making diverse employees feel lied to during the onboarding process.


How Bryq Can Help

Acknowledging that you have a diversity problem at your company is the first step to solving the problem. It’s taking the next steps that matter most. By ensuring that you’re hiring process is equitable and inclusive from the very beginning, you are already taking the beginning steps that you need to take to create a more diverse workforce. Bryq talent assessments crush bias from the get-go. We score candidates based on their personality traits and cognitive ability. They are then compared to the psychological data paired to the role they are applying for to see if they are a good fit. Gender, race, age…even level of education are not a factor!

If candidates need extra assistance completing the assessment, Bryq is happy to provide it. Equity can and should start at the very beginning of the hiring process. By making your hiring process equitable and inclusive, you are showing candidates that you are serious about your DEI efforts. This will attract diverse talent naturally.

Do you want to take the next step towards diversifying your hiring process in a real, authentic way? Book a demo with our Customer Success Team! They’ll show you exactly how the science behind Bryq works to eliminate bias in the hiring process. Additionally, you can download our eBook: How to Hire for Diverse Talent for more ways you can diversify your hiring process. We can’t wait to help you get to where you need to be in your DEI efforts.

Do you want to see how Talent Intelligence helps you create the Future of Work?

Book a meeting with our team today to find out!

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