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  • Writer's pictureIyakabeth Rodney

5 Useful Ways Employers Can Avoid Tokenism in the Workplace

Tokenism can be a tricky concept to come to terms with, yet it is such a major issue that employees from underrepresented backgrounds face.

So, what is Tokenism?

Tokenism is when a company hires a small number of employees from underrepresented communities to appear as though there is equality, when in fact there is none. As a result, these employees may be left feeling used and undervalued.

This is a image of a black woman presenting her CV to an employer
iStock by Getty Images

With all the talk surrounding diversity and lack of inclusion you may have come to realise that your company is not as diverse as it could be, you look around and notice that your top level roles are taken by white middle class men, and maybe you have some gender diversity through a couple of white middle class women in junior roles. So you make the effort by hiring Patricia, a 25 year old black woman from a working class background, who was the first in her family to attend university. You may be wondering what you can do to prevent Patricia, and future employees from feeling like tokens.

Not to worry! As we've got you covered with some useful tips on how you can do this 😊

1. Consider the reason and your intention behind hiring “diverse talent”

Perhaps the time has come to reconsider why you want a diverse workforce. Hiring diversely is more than an image for critics to praise. Using employees for their race, class, gender, sexual orientation or disability to give your company the appearance of being equal is tokenism. Once you hire someone that fits into any of these categories, do not use their circumstances to advertise your company as diverse.

Instead, give them the opportunity to use their skills and abilities to help build the business (more on this below). This will not only help to avoid tokenism, but also create a more inclusive place for employees to work as they are being incorporated into the business through their talents.

2. Expand diversity in the workplace

Take a look at the hierarchy within your company. Ask yourself: Is there an equal balance of employees from different backgrounds, genders, races and so on from the most junior positions right to the most senior roles? To resolve this issue hire from a wider candidate pool across the whole company, from top to bottom. This will prevent employees from feeling like tokens as they are around colleagues who are also from underrepresented communities.

By doing this the company not only looks diverse but actually is!

3. Give underrepresented employees the chance to contribute to making important decisions

Equality in decision making is a great way for employers to avoid tokenism. Allowing employees from typically underrepresented groups to have their say will provide them with the freedom to contribute. This freedom will open up the possibility for a new and fresh perspective. The best part is, it is not only beneficial to the business but also the individual as they are left feeling appreciated and valued.

4. Open communication

Creating an open space where employees feel comfortable communicating any issues they have is another useful way to avoid tokenism. 1:1’s with employees to ensure they feel that their needs are being met will create a more productive working environment and allow employees to voice any concerns that employers may be unaware of. Just be sure to act on those concerns too.

5. Educate yourself!

The need to educate oneself cannot be stressed enough. If you are unsure about whether or not your company is tokenistic then do some further research about what that means and its negative impact. An article that we quite like for example is this one from Power To Fly.

Tokenism does not change stereotypes of social systems but works to preserve them, since it dulls the revolutionary impulse

- Mary Daly

Hire diverse, avoid tokenism and see the results for yourself!

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