Tokenism – Who/What Does It Affect? More Than You Realize

Definition of Tokenism

Tokenism (noun): “The practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce.””Example of tokenism in a sentence:  Did the company choose her for her merits, or merely as an act of tokenism?”

With the rise of global support of the Black Lives Matter movement, many organizations feel compelled to hire diversity candidates, even if only for symbolic reasons.   This practice is a form of  tokenism.  Those hired for purely symbolic reasons are known as tokens.  For organizations, it is essential to recognize the difference between true diversity and tokenism. Organizations  that express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, need to take genuine steps to achieve racial equity within their organizations.

  Not only does engaging in tokenism lead to the appearance of insincerity on the part of the hiring organization, it also  affects those used as tokens.   Researchers, Aneika Simmons, Elizabeth Umphress, and  Marla Baskerville Watkins, recently reviewed studies of token employees. The studies ranged from years 1991 and 2016. Through their research, Simmons, Umphress and Watkins found that “tokens have higher levels of depression and stress”.  Additionally, tokens were found to be more likely to experience discrimination and sexual harassment, than those who worked in more “balanced environments”.  Further tokens are “less satisfied and less committed at their jobs.”

Effects of Tokenism in the Workplace

Far from affecting tokens alone, tokenism harms organizational bottom lines.   Companies that are seen as engaging in tokenism risk damage to their public perception.  Further,  homogenous groups produce homogenous solutions and ideas. Coming from different backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences, socially and racially diverse groups bring innovation, unique perspectives, and new information. As such, having a diverse workplace leads to increased creativity, productivity, and a solution-oriented approach.

Organizations that embrace the depth and value of diversity, center their recruiting around strategic, data-driven diversity goals.  The benefits of proper diversity practices are well documented.   Yet, some organizations, whether knowingly or unknowingly, fail to leverage the power and benefits that diversity hiring brings.

Preventing Tokenism

When crafting recruitment strategies, organizations should ensure that said strategies are centered around properly constructed, long-term diversity goals.  Diversity & Inclusion plans should not be left to the subjectivity of those who conduct organizational hiring.  We all have unconscious biases, and, without a strategic plan in place, said biases may affect hiring, and correspondingly, doom diversity goals.

At Black Belonging Matters we collaborate with key stakeholders to develop and implement data-driven, impactful Diversity & Inclusion strategies and programs. Through this, we help to create and sustain inclusive work environments where employees thrive, feel like they belong, and, perform at their full potential.

Does your organization need help with crafting an impactful diversity & inclusion plan?  Please contact us, we’d love to help.

TL;DR:  Tokenism is the practice of making only symbolic efforts.  In the workplace, tokenism adversely affects employees and company bottom lines.  Black Belonging Matters can help create data-driven strategies to prevent tokenism in the workforce.   By: Tina