HOW TO AVOID TOKENISM IN DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION WORK
As I began planning for my Diversity and Inclusion Fellow Project, I wondered how do I do this in a meaningful way that avoids tokenism? Should I be the one that starts D&I work at my organization just because I’m ‘diverse’? Well, if it gets me a seat at the table, and gets the conversation going, then it is a way to get a foot in the door.
I often reflect on when was the defining moment for me as to when I realized I was ‘diverse.’ In one of my very first jobs as a teenager, I worked as a summer intern in government. During this time, I was often recruited to participate in campaign photos and videos, and to sit in and attend various events. Not only was I a woman, but a woman of Asian descent. I remember, in particular that I was asked to participate in an event celebrating Philippines Independence Day (June 12th) and was confused as to why – I’m Chinese.
On the one hand, it gave me unprecedented access – I often found myself front and center at events or rallies, but on the other hand, I wanted to be there based on merit not just because of gender and ethnicity.
Tonie Snell at Diversity Forward has an article titled ‘Tokenism: The Result of Diversity Without Inclusion’ which speaks to the core of D&I work. Many organizations can say they are diverse – but is the culture inclusive? Stats are stats – it gives the appearance of equality without actually achieving it. It doesn’t stop at saying you have a black, queer, and/or quadriplegic employee – the whole premise of diversity is meant to be the wealth of knowledge and expertise that comes from a wide range of perspectives and backgrounds.
The numbers in our sector can appear encouraging – more often than not, organizations are made up of more female employees than male. However, what does that look like when it comes to making presentations (Congress, Fundraising Day, etc.)? Are they the ones leading major sector-wide initiatives? Are they holding leadership positions within our industry? The same concept can be applied to diversity – do our diverse fundraisers have a seat at the table or are they figureheads?
Long story short, I do not have the answer yet but I think being conscious of it is a start.