Defining tokenism

Tokenism is a term that has become increasingly prevalent in our society, from the media to the workplace. Tokenism is diversity without inclusion. It’s a superficial effort to meet numerical diversity goals or to create the illusion of diversity without implementing meaningful changes.

Tokenism involves hiring individuals from underrepresented groups to superficially portray diversity and deflect criticism for a lack of diversity in the workplace. It’s about doing the bare minimum, without sincerity or authenticity in being inclusive to marginalized individuals. It’s important to understand that diversity and tokenism are very different things. While diversity is about appreciating the uniqueness of every individual, tokenism is a perfunctory effort.

Addressing tokenism challenges

Tokenism creates several problems. It allows individuals and companies to avoid genuine engagement because they feel they have done their part to contribute. Tokenism creates an unrealistic picture of what engagement looks like. It also leads to heavy stereotyping of marginalized groups, which is not representative of everyone. This can have a significant impact on mental health, especially for people who find themselves to be a token in settings such as workplace.

In the media, poor representation of marginalized groups affects how viewers perceive a particular demographic. Furthermore, tokenism hinders organisational growth and leads to hiring for the wrong reasons, lack of representation, and poor retention rates.

Avoiding tokenism

To avoid tokenism, diversity and inclusion must be integrated. Diversity is about numbers, while inclusion is about culture. One cannot thrive without the other. Managers and team leaders must create an environment where everyone feels connected and included. Encourage cross-cultural collaborations at all levels and business units.

Hiring should be based on capabilities, not on gender, ethnicity or to improve diversity statistics. While organisational statements expressing a commitment to diversity are necessary, these values must also be embodied through policies, practices, and procedures.


Five Ways to Avoid Tokenism in Diversity & Inclusion Work:

Understanding and Identifying Tokenism:

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