Tokenism is when a company tries to look diverse by including people from marginalized groups on the surface — but without a real commitment to fairness and inclusion. This often means hiring people from these groups but not giving them the same chances for promotion or pay, or really listening to what they have to say.
WebMD’s Health Services DEIB Study shows 62% of staff say DEI&B programs aren’t effective. And 9 out of 10 respondents report that their companies have DEI programs. Yet, not everyone knows how to get the support they need.
So, how do you spot tokenism if it is happening in your organization? Here are the signs:
- Recruiting some diverse candidates to give an appearance of diversity
- The company website shows images of a diverse workforce when it does not accurately reflect the actual employee population
- There are significantly fewer employees from underrepresented groups compared to the overall company population
- Employees from underrepresented groups are not given access to the majority of employees’ benefits and perks.
- Managers from diverse backgrounds are not given the authority and influence to make or contribute to critical business decisions.
DEI vs Tokenism
DEI means making a fair and inclusive workplace for everyone in the company. While tokenism is when a company tries to look diverse without truly committing to fairness or inclusion.
Plus, DEI focuses both on representation and inclusion. On the other hand, tokenism is only focused on having a diverse group but doesn’t think about inclusion and fairness.
When DEI is truly put into action, it can make the company more creative and productive. Tokenism has negative effects like making some people feel like they don’t belong. Also, it can lower employee engagement, morale, and how many people stay at the company.
Negative Impacts of Tokenism
Tokenism is not only harmful on an individual level but also for the entire organization.
This situation causes employees from underrepresented groups to experience imposter syndrome. They believe they were hired because of their diverse background rather than their skills and feel pressure to perform their best at all times because they feel like the majority groups are watching them.
For instance, a woman who got a promotion just to make it look like the company cares about gender diversity wasn’t asked to join leadership meetings. So, not including her in decisions might mean the company misses out on the chance to benefit from her different viewpoints and special skills.
If left unchecked, these tokenized staff would be demotivated and, worse, leave the company.
How to Avoid Tokenism
To avoid tokenism and promote authentic diversity, equity, and inclusion within an organization, consider the following strategies:
1. Commit to genuine diversity, equity, and inclusion
Make sure your promises about DEI are more than just trendy words. They need to be a real value and a top priority for your organization. So, start by looking at how things are now when it comes to DEI in your organization. Also, collect data about your team, how employees feel, and if there are any differences in opportunities and results. After that, set SMART DEI goals – specific, measurable, achievable, and realistic targets that match the company’s mission and values.
Don’t just set numbers or checkboxes to show diversity, as this can lead to tokenism. So, instead of randomly promoting a certain number of Black female employees to supervisory positions, think about making company policies and processes more inclusive.
2. Get a whole organizational approach
Educate your company about the importance of DEI. Ensure all employees attend DEI training to learn about unconscious biases and how they take place: gender, age, race, sexual orientation, and educational background.
To make sure DEI initiatives work well, make sure your managers are on board. The leadership team should be the first to support diversity initiatives and should also be responsible for making sure DEI goals are met.
3. Implement inclusive workplace policies
Being a genuine, inclusive organization means being inclusive at all employee touchpoints. Below are some tried and tested inclusive company practices and policies:
- Hiring: Avoid using exclusionary words and phrases in your job descriptions. Use gender-neutral language in your job posts. Expand your recruitment channels. Use diversity recruiting websites and job boards to attract diverse candidates. Consider having a diverse interview panel when conducting job interviews to make underrepresented applicants comfortable and encouraged to work with your company. Join job fairs and career events catering to diverse applicants to help you connect with many job seekers from diverse backgrounds.
- Employee benefits: Think about what diverse employees might need when you’re planning the benefits and perks at your company. Some popular benefits for diverse employees include parental leaves, floating holidays, remote work options, tuition or education reimbursements, mental health support, and gender-affirming benefits (which might include coverage for surgeries, hormone therapies, and counseling).
- Equal pay and promotion: Create transparent guidelines for promotions and salary decisions. Communicate job titles, pay grades, and minimum qualifications for internal openings.
- Communication policies: use gender-neutral language across all company communications
- Anti-discrimination policies: Put in place rules for dealing with behaviors that discriminate or support tokenism. Create protection against retaliation and ways to report problems to show the company is against bullying and discrimination.
- ERGs: Form ERGs that represent various affinity groups (e.g., LGBTQ+ employees, women, and people of color) and provide them with resources and a platform to advocate for change
4. Hire a DEI consultant
If your organization is just starting with diversity, equity, and inclusion, hiring a DEI consultant makes sense. Copying other organizations’ diversity strategies is ineffective because each company has unique profiles and needs. With the help of DEI consultants, they can design goals based on your organization’s structure and goals.
5. Evaluate your progress
After you start your DEI efforts, keep checking how well they’re working. Share updates with everyone involved to stay accountable and clear about what’s happening. Talk openly with employees from underrepresented groups to get their thoughts on how things are going and if it’s meeting their needs. Change strategies as necessary based on what you learn from feedback and results.
Why I wrote this:
You might accidentally fall into tokenism if you’re not careful with your DEI efforts…like hiring a lot of diverse candidates just to meet diversity goals. But, if you plan carefully and follow DEI best practices, you can stop tokenism from happening in your organization.
At Ongig, we advocate for genuine diversity, equity, and inclusion by helping recruiters write inclusive job postings. Request a demo to learn more.
- DEIB: Why Your Program May Be Failing Employees – WebMD Health Services