On a gloomy Monday afternoon last September, Sam* was ushered into a meeting room to interview for the role of charity director. She was aware that this organisation had been through a race-related scandal in the past, but was confident and prepared for the interview. But as the interview began, she noticed something unusual. “The people interviewing me didn’t appear to have read anything about me, either from my CV or cover letter, as the kind of questions being asked were areas I’d already covered,” she explains.
Although Sam accepted the job she was convinced that she was a token hire, which triggered self-doubt and knocked her confidence. “It made me question if I was deserving of the things I had worked so hard for, and it fed the already existent imposter syndrome I had,” she says.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has reignited a discussion around the make-up of organisations and how they prioritise diversity and inclusion. Companies such as Barclays, Deloitte, and the BBC have all pledged to increase the number of Black employees in their workforce. Glassdoor reported a 50 per cent surge in diversity and inclusion job openings in June alone. But one thing missing from this discussion is this concept of “token hiring” – a quick-fix to diversity that we may now see become a lot more common.
A recentMcKinsey report found that 61 per cent of employees don’t believe their workplace is inclusive. They concluded that hiring diverse talent is no longer enough, because companies can recruit people to artificially meet a target and still not provide inclusive work environments, which could then contribute to employees feeling stuck as token hires.
“Token hiring is just window dressing with no real commitment to infrastructural change or challenging problematic behaviours around inclusion or culture,” says Christina Brooks, co-founder and CEO of Ruebik, a company that specialises in diversity-focused software.
Tanya*, a business advisor for a music company, can speak to this experience. Since she was hired in January 2018, she’s been the only Black woman in the company. She quickly found that she was being reprimanded for the same things that white colleagues were getting away with. And she watched these same white colleagues being promoted ahead of her, even though the majority had less experience.
“Despite me consistently reaching my monthly targets and managing complex cases beyond my remit, I was rejected for all three promotional roles I interviewed for,” she explains.
This attitude convinced Tanya that she was a token hire, causing her stress and frustration that led to her leaving the company. “[They] only wanted a token Black woman and did absolutely nothing to support my career or progression,” she says.
Companies that now want to bring on more diverse employees need to look at the makeup of senior leadership and recruitment firms they use. “If [they] don’t understand the communities they’re now trying to permeate, then diverse talent isn’t understood and simply placed into the process because they’re diverse,” Brooks explains.
BLM has put the spotlight back on diversity within business, but companies need to make sure that this isn’t done through panicked token hiring. Education and training is needed for employers when it comes to understanding diversity, while also making sure that diverse voices play a part in the hiring process, Brooks argues. “This then ensures that when a diverse employee is hired it’s because they are the best person for that role, and not just because of who they are.”
*Names have been changed
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