London Daily

Focus on the big picture.
Tuesday, Jan 31, 2023

Why diverse hires can't always escape tokenism

Why diverse hires can't always escape tokenism

In homogeneous organisations, even the most talented hires can feel tokenised. It's a problem that hits everyone hard.

Cheyenne’s interview to become an assistant at a large New York City hair salon only lasted five minutes before she got the job.

There were dozens of employees at the salon, but few were black like Cheyenne. At first, she was excited for the chance to improve her skills, and maybe even open some doors for those coming up after her.

But after a few weeks, the aspiring hairstylist says she began to feel less like a welcomed addition and more like a prop. She says out of the approximately 40 stylists, only one was black. And Cheyenne was one of just a few black assistants. “I realised the only other black women in the salon were always placed in areas where you could see them from the front,” says Cheyenne, 30. “It was almost like they were being showcased.”

Cheyenne says when wealthy, diverse clients would enter, staff would go out of their way to introduce her and include her in conversations. Once those patrons were gone, however, she says she was ignored by the manager, scheduled to work longer days than her counterparts and strongly encouraged to straighten her naturally curly hair to meet the salon’s unspoken “presentation standards”. Cheyenne says she didn’t have any way to prove she might have been a token hire, and didn’t want to seem “ungrateful”, given how few black people were there.

But when she found out from a few friendly colleagues that some of the other employees were placing bets on how long she’d survive on the job – she was told many diverse employees before her had made quick exits because they didn’t feel they belonged – Cheyenne hit her breaking point and resigned. “They were just joking about how I lasted longer than they thought I would,” says Cheyenne. “I don't think [the salon owners] were trying to be diverse. I think they were trying to seem diverse.”

I don't think [the salon owners] were trying to be diverse. I think they were trying to seem diverse – Cheyenne


Cheyenne says she was left feeling like a token: a member of a previously excluded group, often hired or promoted as a symbolic gesture toward inclusivity. Within social science, researchers define a token as an employee belonging to a minority group that constitutes less than 15% of the total population in a workplace.

When a predominantly homogenous organisation attempts to appear inclusive by hiring or promoting one or two people from underrepresented communities, the feeling and perception of tokenism can hit hard. While many cope with the roadblock either out of economic necessity or as the bitter price of reaching their career goals, it can leave others at a crushing crossroads. In Cheyenne’s case, it meant leaving the industry entirely after that experience, even though she’d dreamed of doing hair since childhood, and knew she was good at it.

Tokenism can be a personal problem for the individual, setting up diverse employees to fail no matter their role or potential value in an organisation. But it can also mean trouble for everyone.

‘Set up to fail from day one’


The perception of tokenism can be corrosive in small offices as well as large, high-profile workplaces, even those that appear harmonious on the surface.

In July, the New York Times reported white American sports broadcaster Rachel Nichols made comments on a recording implying her black colleague, Maria Taylor, was on the verge of being promoted at ESPN because the company was “feeling pressure” for its “record on diversity”. The publicised comments spotlighted what many employees from marginalised groups have endured behind closed doors for years: intimations that their identity, regardless of their unique skill set, is why an employer hired them.

Having that level of visibility can definitely lead to self-doubt and some internal feelings of ‘unsureness’ – Aneika Simmons


Being regarded as a token by colleagues – or worrying that you are one – can have long-term repercussions for an employee’s mental health.

Research shows a token hire – no matter how accomplished and capable – “can have higher levels of depression and stress”, says Aneika Simmons, a professor of management at Sam Houston State University, Texas. “Over time, that stress can lead to feelings of helplessness, and it can lead to feelings of de-personalisation – all of these things that can lead to burnout.”

In 2019, Simmons and her colleagues published an analysis of more than 80 studies in the past 25 years on the consequences of tokenism. They discovered overall, those who found themselves to be solo minorities or one of very few in a workplace were unfairly viewed as a representative of their entire minority group and faced heavier scrutiny from both higher ups and their peers.

“These are brilliant people. I mean, these are people that are highly intelligent, highly capable. But that continued pressure of having that level of visibility can definitely lead to self-doubt and some internal feelings of ‘unsureness’,” says Simmons.

The researchers found some exceptions, namely men working in traditionally women-dominant fields, like nursing and teaching. In those instances, men could attain higher positions more quickly than women. But in most areas, Siri Chilazi, a gender and organisations researcher at Harvard Kennedy School, says an employee who is considered a token can be “set up to fail from day one”.

Being seen as a token – or feeling like one - can lead to multiple mental health impacts


“Research shows that their voices get drowned out in deliberations,” says Chilazi, who has advised Fortune 500 companies, start-ups and academic institutions on issues of equality. “They're more likely to be interrupted in meetings. They are less likely if they make a contribution or idea or suggestion [to be given the] same due consideration as ideas voiced by majority members.”

Chilazi says those in the minority are often not given the same “assumption of credibility” as everyone else, usually the result of unconscious bias. And that can prevent a level playing field to succeed.

Cementing stereotypical views


Unsurprisingly, these effects can contribute to higher turnover and, consequently, lower morale – something that not only affects the individual, but the entire organisation.

“Tokenism hurts company culture not only today, but well into the future, because it cements stereotypical views about who is ‘ready’ or ‘competent’ or ‘successful’ or ‘a leader’,” says Chilazi. When those narrow parameters persist, and only workers who fit a traditional mould are given opportunities to shine, organisations can “lose out on competent and high-performing employees for no reason”.

For companies aiming to be more inclusive and representative, particularly in higher ranks, one way to help new employees feel like they belong is through “cluster hiring”.

This type of hiring strategy, which involves hiring a cohort of people across disciplines or departments simultaneously, began largely at colleges and universities trying to diversify their faculty. Researchers documented results of cluster hiring at 10 public research universities in a 2015 report. “We found that the practise can increase diversity if it's intentional,” says Julia Michaels, who managed the project, and is now the executive director for the Center for Public University Transformation at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities in Washington, DC. “Intent really matters.”

Changes to hiring practices and leadership behaviours can create a healthier environment for workers from minority groups


Experts say cluster hiring is gaining momentum outside post-secondary institutions as well. There’s a growing body of evidence to suggest when people make multiple decisions at once, “we rely less on stereotypes and biases in that decision-making process, and the outcomes of our decisions are more diverse”, says Chilazi. Prejudices may also become easier to spot.

“Oftentimes what I see is [organisations] run the numbers once a year at the end of the year. So, it's retrospective, it's looking back and they go, ‘oh my goodness, we hired nine senior level people and eight of them are men’,” says Chilazi. “They basically had no idea because they were each individual appointments, throughout the year, spread around. Different people were probably in charge of making those decisions. And no one was tracking the numbers as you go. If they had made those nine appointments in a cluster at the same time, it would have been painfully obvious.”

Chilazi says changes need to happen at the top, but also among workers who are part of majority groups, by calling out exclusionary behaviour, and practicing more inclusive actions. For supervisors, that can mean ensuring all employees, including and especially those who are ‘onlys’ in the room, are heard in meetings and have equal access to opportunities. For colleagues, it can be as simple as showing new hires around, inviting them to after-work social activities and offering a friendly ear for support.

And if you feel you’re being tokenised at work, Simmons suggests becoming familiar with your company’s guiding principles and your own job description. “If behaviour within an organisation is appearing to marginalise them and violate company core values, they can be used to undergird conversations with leadership about a lack of opportunity,” says Simmons.

Opening a discussion with the boss isn’t always that easy, comfortable or even possible. Cheyenne said she tried talking to her manager, but even an attempt at casual conversation in the elevator was rebuffed. What she had hoped would be an opportunity to get a foot in the door at that Manhattan hair salon left her “burned out” and “discouraged”. She says leaving was the best decision for her, but that doesn’t mean the effects of feeling tokenised departed when she did. The experience shakes her confidence to this day, she says, making her constantly question “the validity of my successes or rejections”.

Newsletter

Related Articles

London Daily
Close
0:00
0:00
WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT - US Memphis Police murdering innocent Tyre Nichols
You're Beautiful - James Blunt (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover)
Almost 30% of professionals say they've tried ChatGPT at work
You Are So Beautiful
Interpol seeks woman who ran elaborate exam cheating scam in Singapore
Postmodern Jukebox European Tour Version
What is ChatGPT?
An old French tune (by Georges Brassens) Pomplamoose ft. John Schroeder
Bill Gates is ‘very optimistic’ about the future: ‘Better to be born 20 years from now...than any time in the past’
Sattahip Motor Show 20
China is opening up for foreign investors.
SONATE AU CLAIR DE LUNE - Moonlight sonata
Tesla reported record profits and record revenues for 2022
A kiss to build a dream on
Germany confirms it will provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks
Wiz Khalifa - See You Again ft. Charlie Puth, Furious
Prince Andrew and Virginia Giuffre Photo Is Fake: Ghislaine Maxwell
Wonderful Tonight - Eric Clapton (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover)
Opinion | Israel’s Supreme Court Claims a Veto on Democracy
Mean Blues
Moonwalker Buzz Aldrin Gets Married On His 93rd Birthday
La Chansonnette
Who’s Threatening Israeli Democracy?
Pattaya Addicts
Federal Reserve Probes Goldman’s Consumer Business
Franz Liszt - Liebestraum - Love Dream
China's first population drop in six decades
Dream a little dream of me
Microsoft is finalising plans to become the latest technology giant to reduce its workforce during a global economic slowdown
Tu Vuo' Fa' L'Americano - Hetty & the Jazzato Band
Israelis rally in three cities against Netanyahu legal reforms
Unchained Melody sung like you've NEVER heard!
China's foreign ministry branch in Hong Kong urges British gov't to stop the biased and double standards Hong Kong report
Dave Brubeck - Take Five
Tesla slashes prices globally by as much as 20 percent
Édith Piaf - Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (Sofie)
Japan prosecutors indict man for ex-PM Shinzo Abe murder
Rondo Alla Turca
1.4 Million Copies Of Prince Harry's Memoir 'Spare' Sold On 1st Day In UK
Kiss of fire
After Failing To Pay Office Rent, Twitter May Sell User Names
Ed Sheeran - Perfect (Amadeus violin cover instrumental)
Lisa Marie Presley, singer and daughter of Elvis, dies aged 54
Tom Jones - I´ll Never Fall In Love Again 1967, 1989, 2001
FIFA president questioned by prosecutors
Israel Cachao López - Guajira Clásica
Britain's Sunak breaks silence and admits using private healthcare
Edward Maya - Stereo Love (feat. Vika Jigulina) (Extended Mix)
Dirty bomb fears as URANIUM is found in cargo at Heathrow
Strauss - Radetzky March - Karajan
Hype and backlash as Harry's memoir goes on sale. Unnamed royal source says prince 'kidnapped by cult of psychotherapy and Meghan'
La vie en rose
Saudi Arabia set to overtake India as fastest-growing major economy this year 
Despacito (Piano Cover) - Peter Bence
Google and Facebook’s dominance in digital ads challenged by rapid ascent of Amazon and TikTok
The Temptations - My Girl (Smokey Robinson Tribute) 2006 Kennedy Cent
FTX fraud investigators are digging deeper into Sam Bankman-Fried's inner circle – and reportedly have ex-engineer Nishad Singh in their sights
Orlando Cachaito Lopez Redencion
TikTok CEO Plans to Meet European Union Regulators
Edith Piaf - NON, JE NE REGRETTE RIEN
UK chaos: Hong Kong emigrants duped by false prospectus
RADETZKY MARCH-2008-Wien, New Year Concert
France has banned the online sale of paracetamol until February, citing ongoing supply issues
Only you (And you alone)
Japan reportedly to give families 1 million yen per child to move out of Tokyo
Beautiful in White x Canon in D (Piano Cover by Riyandi Kusuma)
Saudi Arabia’s female ambassadors: Who are the five women representing the Kingdom?
Strangers In The Night
Will Canada ever become a real democracy?
Charles Aznavour - La Boheme
Hong Kong property brokerages slash payrolls in choppy market
Summer time
U.S. Moves to Seize Robinhood Shares, Silvergate Accounts Tied to FTX
Sting and Stevie Wonder - Fragile (from Sting's 60th birthday concert)
Effect of EU sanctions on Moscow is ‘less than zero’ – Belgian MEP
Aux Champs Elysees
Coinbase to Pay $100 Million in Settlement With New York Regulator
Stand By Me - Ben E. King (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover)
FTX assets worth $3.5bn held by Bahamas securities regulator
La Mer (Beyond the Sea) – Avalon Jazz Band
A Republican congressman-elect is under investigation in New York after he admitted he lied about his education and work experience.
She
Brazilian football legend Pele, arguably the greatest player ever, has died at the age of 82.
Nathalie Song by Enzo Petrachi Stjepan Hauser Cello
Hong Kong to scrap almost all its Covid rules
Shape of My Heart - Sting (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover)
EU calls screening of travellers from China unjustified
Radiohead - Creep
US imposes Covid testing for visitors from China
Quizás,Quizás,Quizás - Andrea Bocelli - Jennifer Lopez
Clashes erupt in central Paris after shooting at a Kurdish cultural center
Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps - Multi-Couples
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Addresses Joint Session of Congress - FULL SPEECH
Pentatonix Havana
If a country is denied the right to independence by another, it is not in a union. It is in a dictatorship.
Paula Cole - Autumn Leaves
Where is Rishi? Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's excuses about the UK's economic challenges just don't make sense
Oscar Benton Bensonhurst Blues
Former FTX CEO Bankman-Fried finally arrested in Bahamas after U.S. files charges
OH NANANA vs ABUSADAMENTE
Nina Simone - ”I Put A Spell On You”. Vezi aici cum cântă Jeremy Ragsd
NIGHTWISH - The Phantom Of The Opera
Motorshow 2016 Tanjay Negros Oriental
Monica Bellucci - Ti Amo
Michael Jackson - Billie Jean Milena The Voice France 2018
Michael Buble (Help Me Make It Through The Night) feat Loren Allred
Memories Canon In D - Maroon 5 (Boyce Avenue piano acoustic cover)
Matteo Simoni - Marina
Maroon 5 - One More Night
Maroon 5 - Memories
Mark Knopfler - Brothers In Arms (Berlin 2007 Live)
Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris - Romeo And Juliet (Real Live Roadrunni
Marina, Marina - The LUCKY DUCKIES intimist live concert at Guimarães
Major Lazer & DJ Snake – Lean On Mauranne The Voice France 2016
Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet - Joslin - Henri Mancini, Nino Rota
LoLa & Hauser - Love Story
Linkin Park Jay-Z - Numb Encore (Live 8 2005)
Hallelujah Mennel Ibtissem, The Voice France Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen - Dance Me to the End of Love
Leonard Cohen & Natasha Rostova - Dance me to the end of love
La casa de papel - Bella Ciao
La Camisa Negra
L'italiano (Toto Cutugno) - The Gypsy Queens
Juanes - La Camisa Negra
Jonathan and Charlotte - Britain's Got Talent 2012 Live Semi Final - U
John Powell - Assassin's Tango
Joe Cocker - You Can Leave Your Hat On (LIVE in Dortmund)
Joe Cocker - Unchain My Heart 2002 Live
Joe Cocker - A Whiter Shade Of Pale
Jay Z & Alicia Keys - Empire State of Mind LIVE
Jason Mraz - Im Yours (live)
Jarrod Radnich - Bohemian Rhapsody - Virtuosic Piano Solo
James Blunt - You're Beautiful
James Blunt - You're Beautiful & Bonfire Heart (Live at The Nobel Peac)
If You Go Away - Helen Merrill & Stan Getz (Tribute to Virna Lisi)
I'LL BE MISSING YOU
I Say a Little Prayer
Hotel California ( Eagles ) 1994 Live
Historia de un amor - Luz Casal. Vezi interpretarea Biancăi Sumanariu
Here Comes The Sun - The Beatles (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover) on Spot
Heart - Stairway to Heaven Led Zeppelin - Kennedy Center Honors
HAVANA by Camila Cabello Zumba Pre Cooldown TML Crew Kramer Pastra
HAUSER and Señorita - I Will Always Love You
HAUSER - Waka Waka
HAUSER - Sway
HAUSER - Lambada
HAUSER - Historia de un Amor
HAUSER - Despacito
Great Pretender
Georgia May Foote & Giovanni Pernice Samba to 'Volare' - Strictly Come
Gary Moore - Still Got The Blues
GIPSY KINGS VOLARE Penelope Cruz
Fugees - Killing Me Softly With His Song
French Latino - Historia de un Amor
For A Few Dollars More The Danish National Symphony Orchestra (Live)
Flashdance • What a Feeling • Irene Cara
Filip Rudan - “Someone You Loved” Audicija 4 The Voice Hrvatska Sez
Eric Clapton - Wonderful Tonight
Enya - Only Time
Enrique Iglesias - Bailando (English Version) ft. Sean Paul
Enrique Iglesias - Bailamos
Elena Yerevan Historia de un amor
Ed Sheeran - Shape of You (Official Music Video)
Ed Sheeran - Perfect Symphony [with Andrea Bocelli]
Ed Sheeran - Perfect (Official Music Video)
Easy On Me - Adele (Boyce Avenue 90’s style piano acoustic cover) on S
ERA - Ameno
ELENA YEREVAN- Cancion Del Mariachi-IN STUDIO-2017 DPR
Dust In The Wind - Kansas (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover)
Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
Despacito x Shape Of You - Pentatonix
Deep Purple - Child In Time - Live (1970)
David Foster When A Man Loves A WomanIt's A Mans World (SealMichael Bo
Dance me to the end of Love ( Pi-Air Design )
Coolio - Gangsta's Paradise (feat. L.V.) [Official Music Video]
Conquest Of Paradise (Vangelis), played on Böhm Emporio organ
Cielito Lindo
Chico & The Gypsies - Bamboleo
Canción Del Mariachi - Antonio Banderas, Los Lobos • Desperado
Camila Cabello - Havana (Audio) ft. Young Thug
Camila Cabello - Havana ( cover by J.Fla )
California Dreamin' - The Mamas & The Papas José Feliciano (Boyce Ave
Buster Benton - Money Is The Name of The Game
Hallelujah Pentatonix
Bobby McFerrin - Don't Worry Be Happy (Official Music Video)
Bob Dylan - Knockin' On Heaven's Door Emilia The Voice Kids France
Besame Mucho - Cesaria Evora
Ben E. King - Stand by Me Sax Cover Alexandra Ilieva Thomann
Bella Ciao
Bella Ciao - INSTRUMENTAL
Beautiful in White x Canon in D (Piano Cover by Riyandi Kusuma)
Bad Romance - Vintage 1920's Gatsby Style Lady Gaga Cover ft. Ariana Savalas & Sarah Reich(1)
BELLA CIAO 2020 - KARAOKE ITALIANO
BAMBOLEO - Gipsy Kings • Antonio Banderas, Katya Virshilas
BAILANDO (original)
Awesome Ukrainian yodeler - SOFIA SHKIDCHENKO (with English subtitles)
Avicii - The Nights
Atom - The Great Gig in the Sky
Aretha Franklin - (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (Official Ly
Antonio Banderas - Cancion del Mariachi (Desperado)
André Rieu - Zorba's Dance (Sirtaki)
André Rieu - Can't Help Falling In Love
André Rieu & Mirusia - Ave Maria
Andrew Reyes Elton John - Don't Let The Sun Go Down The Voice 2020 (
Andreas Kümmert Whiter Shade Of Pale The Voice of Germany 2013 Showd
And I Love You So
All About That Bass - Postmodern Jukebox European Tour Version
Alan Walker - Faded (Piano Cover)
Ain't No Sunshine -- Bill Withers (cover by Canen 12 y.o.)
African music
Adriana Vidović - “Creep” Audicija 4 The Voice Hrvatska Sezona 3
Adriana Vidović - “Believer” Nokaut 3 The Voice Hrvatska Sezona 3
A Fistful of Dollars - The Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Tuva
4 Beautiful Soundtracks Relaxing Piano [10min]
2CELLOS - Whole Lotta Love vs. Beethoven 5th Symphony [OFFICIAL VIDEO]
2CELLOS - Smooth Criminal (Live at Suntory Hall, Tokyo)
2CELLOS - Smells Like Teen Spirit [Live at Sydney Opera House]
2CELLOS - Despacito [OFFICIAL VIDEO]
13 Year Old Girl Playing Il Silenzio (The Silence) - André Rieu
094.All About That Bass
00 - SADNESS PART 1
(Ghost) Riders In the Sky (American Outlaws Live at Nassau Coliseum, 1
(Everything I Do) I Do It For You - Bryan Adams (Boyce Avenue ft. Conn
What a wonderful world
Moon river
×