Covert Discrimination Part 3: Tokenism: When Your Identity is Welcome and Your Ability is Not

This is the third and final part of a three part series exploring subtle forms of discrimination in the workplace. As mentioned in the previous episodes, there’s a lot of evidence to show that discrimination of all kinds exists in organisations. But it’s often hard to identity or intervene because overt forms of discrimination are less frequently in society thanks to changing attitudes and improved legislation; however many covert forms of discrimination still remain.

Today, I’m going to be talking about a covert form of prejudice that you will have seen in the workplace. I’m talking about tokenism.

In todays show I discuss several things including:

  • Why tokenism is so common
  • Why Tokenism undermines inclusive strategies
  • The reason your employee resource groups may be used as a form of tokenism and much much more

Here’s some of what I share in the show:

Tokenism suggests a lack of Diversity & Inclusion

I describe how Tokenism is indicative of a lack of Diversity & Inclusion in an organisation:

“I’ve heard of examples where an individual is “invited” to participate in special events or initiatives when they may not hold the necessary expertise. These tend to be high profile events and their involvement served to increase the credibility of the initiative by portraying a culture that embraces diversity. The need for such practices suggests the opposite and actually undermines inclusive strategies “

Tokenism can mean Unnecessary Help

I explain how Tokenism can also mean that a person is given too much help:

“In these scenarios, their training and competencies are disregarded and unnecessary support is provided because of prejudice about them being ethnic rather than professional. This legitimises the ethnicity of the individual but delegitimises their professional competencies”

Employee Resource Groups can be Tokens

I explain how ineffective employee resource groups can be examples of tokens in an organisation:

Organisations can start to claim that they are inclusive because their website shows employee resource groups or they wheel them out during International Women’s Day or Inclusion Week. Under these circumstances, the abilities of these individuals is not welcome, it’s their identity that is favoured and this is a problem. That’s one of the many reasons why having an effective employee resource really matters. Resource groups should be aware that they may be used as tokens, especially if they are perceived to be ineffective”

Here are some selected links to for the resources and reports I discuss in the episode.

Show Notes

Covert Discrimination Part 1: Garlic Bread & The Normalising Gaze

Covert Discrimination Part 2: Qualified Compliments & Masked Prejudice

Professor Koen Van Lear

Professor Maddy Janssens

Ethnic minority professionals’ experiences with subtle discrimination in the workplace

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