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Diversity Without Tokenism

Intersectional feminism and civil rights groups have, in recent years, been speaking out more and more for making industries more diverse and inclusive than they currently are. These groups speak out for the equal rights of all genders, races, and sexualities, and have become a key topic of debate in mainstream media.  While some places […]

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Intersectional feminism and civil rights groups have, in recent years, been speaking out more and more for making industries more diverse and inclusive than they currently are. These groups speak out for the equal rights of all genders, races, and sexualities, and have become a key topic of debate in mainstream media. 

While some places actively work to make themselves as inclusive as possible, many businesses don’t end up actually achieving diversity. Instead, they achieve what’s called tokenism: the hiring of women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and other such minority groups with the intention of meeting a quota rather than genuinely wanting to become a diverse and welcoming environment. Though quotas and “inclusion riders” (the guarantee of diversity when casting actors and hiring crew members in the entertainment industry) are necessary steps to achieve equal opportunities, they are not truly equal and shouldn’t be considered as such.

Prejudice and injustice is, unfortunately, the backbone that many modern societies were built upon. Colonization in Canada took the equal work value celebrated by Indigenous communities and established their own gender binary: rather than equality, women were now devalued and two-spirit peoples, who have gender fluidity, were rejected and demonized for not abiding by the way colonizers perceived gender and sexuality. For over 200 years, slavery of black and Indigenous people was common both in Canada and in the United States, and to this day we still feel the aftermath of the unequal treatment forced upon minority groups.

Having a diversity hiring quota ensures that minority groups receive the opportunities that were unavailable to them before, because with a quota, hiring managers must employ people of different backgrounds. However, tokenization comes in because many businesses look at an applicant’s race, gender, and so on rather than the skills they bring to the table. Tokenism views these groups of people only as their marginalized identity, not as multifaceted people who have much they can bring to the company.

To fight back against slipping into tokenism (accidentally or otherwise), take a look at your business and make sure that it’s inclusive. Being inclusive doesn’t mean putting certain employees on a pedestal; the most likely result is that treating them differently than a white cis male coworker would make them feel uncomfortable or singled out because of their identity rather than their work ethic. Even people with the best intentions can fall into tokenism, because to a privileged party, being extra nice and treating someone special for their identity will likely make them feel good about themselves. Singling someone out, though, no matter how well-intentioned, is more likely to make them feel excluded than anything else. 

To ensure an inclusive, diverse workplace, focus on diversity training and education for all of your employees, and holding people accountable—yourself included—when necessary. Engage everyone in the conversation when working on diversifying your company so that the needs of your employees are properly heard and cared for, and make the goals based off of these conversations a priority. A company that values its employees equally will be strong, profitable, and have the potential to not only change itself internally, but also slowly help society change as well. 


Originally posted to Kimberly’s website.

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