Apart from being a moral imperative, we know that prioritizing workplace diversity is a wise business decision. Research by McKinsey shows that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. But talent acquisition teams still struggle when it comes to hiring diverse candidates; unconscious bias plagues the process at every stage, and then there’s this tricky thing called tokenism.
Tokenism is defined as “the practice of doing something (such as hiring a person who belongs to a minority group) only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly.” Like performative allyship, it’s a blunder that can cost a company the trust of its employees and, eventually, its bottom line. Gen Z candidates expect authenticity from employers’ diversity efforts, including during interviews and hiring.
"Tokenism is a dangerous concept where folks conflate diversity and representation. I think about tokenism as having a certain underrepresented person be the spokesperson for a group, but also not have any real power to affect any change." — Zara Chaudary, Global DEIB Impact Manager at PowerToFly
So how can you ensure that you’re building and maintaining diverse teams without leaving any of your workers feeling tokenized? For starters, it’s essential to view diversity not just as a nice-to-have but as the game-changing business strength that it is. Secondly, there are some tactical, non-tokenizing approaches you can use to gear your sourcing recruiting strategies toward welcoming candidates from all backgrounds, including those with identities that have historically been underrepresented and marginalized.
1. Watch key metrics.What gets measured gets managed. As you implement the techniques outlined here, ensure that you’re keeping track of the success of your efforts. Use metrics like the following ones to ensure that your diversity hiring efforts are going beyond just checking off quotas.
- Percentage of diverse candidates at each recruiting stage
- Employee satisfaction scores in terms of DEIB
- The retention rate among minority employee groups
2. Focus on your employer branding.
It’s all well and good to be outspoken about DEIB issues on public-facing communication. But to avoid tokenism, your company has to reflect its stance from the inside out. Does your C-Suite reflect diversity and do its members publicly commit to it? If they’ve taken any concrete action towards improving diversity and belonging in the company, showcase that in your employer branding.
3. Ensure racial diversity in your hiring team.
Affinity bias — having a more favorable opinion of someone like us — is one of the most common biases in the recruiting process. If you want more employees of color, it is important to your sourcing recruiting strategies to have recruiters and interviewers of color. However, this doesn’t necessarily work with gender imbalances, as a Deloitte report found that both men and women leaders were more likely to hire men, rank them higher in competency, and pay them signiﬁcantly more per year than women.
"Tokenism is a problem because companies are trying to attract diverse talent without creating an inclusive environment. That means when diverse talent comes, they don't actually feel like they belong." — Sienna Brown, Senior Director of DEIB at PowerToFly
4. Diversify your hiring channels.
If you hire from the same channels every year, you’ll get the same candidates every year. There are two simple ways of diversifying your candidate pool. Make it a point to start with these instead of using them as an afterthought:
- Reach out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) for campus placement drives, such as Southern University and A&M College, as well as women’s colleges like Smith and Barnard.
- Look up candidates through job boards serving underrepresented groups, like Out in Tech, iHispano, and PowerToFly.
5. Go blind with resumes and interviews.
You know what they say — first impressions always count. Even more so in the context of hiring, where recruiters can unconsciously form conclusions about a candidate simply by looking at a photo or reading a name.
The best way to mitigate this implicit bias is through blind applications, where photos, names, and other personal details are removed from resumes while assessing them. Blind interviews, too, or another way of obscuring a candidate’s identity in favor of removing the potential for bias. There are many ways of conducting blind interviews, from using software tools such as blindinterviewing.io to doing Q&As over web chat or the phone instead of in person.
6. Offer paid internships.
Want to avoid tokenism? Pay your interns. Internships cost money: there’s accommodation (if it’s in a different city), transport, and food, not to mention the time investment involved. If your internship isn’t paid, many capable candidates from less-resourced backgrounds lose a chance to build their careers, and you lose out on their unique perspectives and talents.
7. Attend career fairs for underrepresented groups.
Apart from job boards, diversity job fairs (virtual and otherwise) are some of the only places where you’ll find a massive volume of qualified diverse candidates ready to be hired. PowerToFly regularly hosts these, and so do organizations like the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) and Diversity Project.
8. Incentivize referrals from marginalized groups.
Referrals are one of the most economical and time-saving routes to quality hiring, and you can leverage your existing referrals program to improve diversity. Incentivize your employees to make referrals across marginalized identity groups — when Pinterest did this, they saw a 55x increase in candidates from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds. A transparent and DEIB-informed interviewing process will help convey that you aren’t hiring candidates specifically because they belong to underrepresented groups, which is tokenism. Instead, your goal here is to help get your jobs in front of candidates who’ve historically faced more barriers in traditional sourcing processes.
9. Leverage AI.
Artificial Intelligence can help eliminate some of the unconscious bias that enters the process at the decision-making stages of recruitment. Data-driven AI-based software platforms rely on algorithms to ignore common prejudices. AI can eliminate inherent biases around age, race, gender, sexuality, ability, and ethnicity. For instance, LinkedIn’s AI tool, Diversity Nudges, notifies recruiters when less than 45% of candidates for a role are either male or female. Another tool, Celential, uses Natural Language Processing to eliminate unintentionally biased phrases from job descriptions.
10. Hire diversity consultants.
Even with so many tools at your disposal, it can be difficult to find, interview, and hire excellent candidates on your own. Not only that, but diversity hiring can be a polarizing subject where you can unintentionally offend certain groups, despite your best intentions. It’s often essential to have some help. Companies like PowerToFly can help you hire and retain underrepresented talent.
The key to avoiding tokenism in recruitment
The business case for diversity hiring is no secret: Its beneficial impact on a company’s bottom line is clear. But setting hiring goals is only the first step. Fostering true diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the workplace goes beyond increasing the number of different identity groups you have on your payroll. It’s also about how employees from traditionally underrepresented groups feel working for your company.
After you’ve implemented fair hiring practices for all identity groups, it’s time to think about how to help these professionals feel at home in your organization. Check out for the final installment in our DEIB Basics training series for tips on building a better culture of belonging next.