Tokenism is the practice of including a small number of people from a marginalized group in a position or activity in order to give the appearance of diversity or inclusivity, without making any real effort to address the underlying issues of discrimination or inequality.
Tokenism often involves token members of a group being given token roles or responsibilities, without being given the same opportunities or support as their non-marginalized counterparts.
Tokenism can be harmful to the individuals who are included in this way, as it can create the impression that they are only there to fulfill a quota or to make the group or organization look more diverse, rather than because of their skills or qualifications.
Tokenism can also reinforce the idea that diversity and inclusion are only superficial, rather than being an integral part of the organization’s values and practices.
Tokenism can be especially insidious when it is used to deflect criticism or avoid real change, as it can give the appearance of progress without actually addressing the underlying issues.
What does tokenism look like?
Here are a few signs that something might be tokenism, rather than a genuine effort to promote diversity and inclusion.
Lack of Representation
Tokenism often involves the inclusion of a small number of people from a marginalized group, rather than a representative cross-section of the group. If you see that a particular group is vastly underrepresented, or that there are only a few individuals from that group, it could be a sign of tokenism.
Lack of Support
Tokenism often involves giving token members of a group token roles or responsibilities, without providing the same level of support and opportunities as their non-marginalized counterparts. If you see that individuals from a marginalized group are not being given the same resources or opportunities as others, it could be a sign of tokenism.
Lack of Meaningful Change
Tokenism can be used to deflect criticism or avoid real change, rather than being a genuine effort to promote diversity and inclusion. If you see that the inclusion of a few individuals from a marginalized group is being used to deflect criticism or avoid addressing underlying issues, it could be a sign of tokenism.