Before I delve into it let us look at the definition of Tokenism. According to Google, as provided by Ocrod Languages, tokenism is defined as:
the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from under-represented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce.
Let us go even further by defining what perfunctory means--
(of an action) carried out without real interest, feeling, or effort.
I believe this gives a good idea into what Tokenism is. It is not limited to only sexuality or racism and it extend to gender, disability or not. This post however will focus on tokenism in relation to racism.
So, why should we talk about it? For starters I'm sure most of us are aware of those university brochures that will have that token black person in a sea of white in a picture that is supposed to scream 'diversity' but in reality just looks like and is tokenism. You know what I mean?
Well for me I am not a fan of it and I don't think anyone else should be. If an organisation has to do a tokenistic gesture to appear diverse then it is a surface level solution to a deeper rooted problem. I know what the statistics say and I know that black people are still largely underrepresented in many professions and the figures are even more staggering when the intersectionality of being black and a woman crosses. I don't have an issue with the footnote in jobs where companies state 'they particularly welcome applications from BAME and other underrepresented groups' ( or something along those lines) as it closes off with all applications will be based on merit. My issue is more-so when a company is hiring a person only because they are black and they have a quota they want to fill or because they want to appear aesthetically diverse. I'm not here for it and I never want to get a job just because I am black or because I am a woman. I want a job based on merit. My race and gender should be a plus and not the main thing.
Rather than trying to fill quotas companies should ask themselves why they only appear to attract only one type of group or gender and look at ways that they need to improve their recruitment process. I know more companies do blind CV reviews so that is a good start. Another thing is to steer clear and actively overcome is unconscious bias and importantly racism. Make sure your interview process is bias free. Invest in training and more importantly do the work to make it a reality. Do not be diverse in name and not in nature; make sure your espoused values are actually enacted values too. Diversity is not a buzzword nor is it to be brought out once October falls upon us and cue the myriad diversity talks and getting black employees to share their experiences. Don't just talk, be about it and make your workplace more accessible to all irrespective of race. Another reason I welcome blind CV reviews during recruitment is that some places are 'allergic' to 'ethnic sounding names' and you may just find your CV at the bottom of the pile. Harsh but it happens and it is unacceptable.
Lastly, I am fiercely against tokenism because it can make you question whether you are worthy of the role or if you only got it out of 'pity' or just because you are black. It does you no favours for self esteem and can actually pick at it. It may also make you feel inadequate in comparison to your colleagues who perhaps did not get their roles through tokenism. Organisations may mean well but the action of tokenism is detrimental and needs to be done away with once and for all.
Let's get to the heart of the issue rather than superficially putting a plaster on it that eventually comes off anyway because it is not foolproof.