Are diversity hires only tokenism?

A truly diverse workplace can do wonders for organisations, but to achieve that they must first learn to avoid tokenism

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Diversity at the workplace is an essential factor in keeping it fresh and open for progress. Different people, belonging to different backgrounds and genders enrich the environment of a corporation by bringing their own personal and professional experiences to work.

As the cultural boundaries around the world have become porous, and more and more employees have started to speak out about the kind of mistreatment they receive at work, the corporations are being scrutinised closely for their ways of hiring.

While diversity hiring, on the face of it, is a very good term, it is more complex in practice and can present a lot of issues if not done properly.

“Diversity is a way of life and it isn’t only restricted to one factor, such as gender. It is, and should go beyond that when corporates are thinking of hiring people”

Biswaroop Mukherjee, head – HR, commercial vehicle business unit, Tata Motors

A need to hire people of different races, castes, classes, genders and so on, can curdle into tokenism; a practice of making a perfunctory effort to hire diverse people for jobs. Tokenism never results in any positive sentiment, since it implies that corporates don’t care about the kind of people they are hiring, as long as they meet the criteria on their checklist.

This reduction of people to just their attributes is not only offensive but also harmful. A lot of diverse hires are often from minority population, and they are subjected to harassment by co-workers or seniors who may feel that they only got the job because of legal issues and not because they deserved it.

If corporates feel burdened by the need to put check marks on some quotas, they’re likely to do their job without much passion for identifying talent. Discrimination and inequality brew in places where the management does not care for its diverse employees, and this, in turn, affects the work being done.

Sachin Narke, chief learning officer, head- talent acquisition, and head-HR at Forbes Marshall, states that corporates that hire diverse workforce only as a part of ‘legal mandates’ fail to exploit the true talent of their employees.

Some corporates hire diverse employees just to show them off as numbers to the public, feels Narke.

“Corporates that hire diverse workforce only as a part of ‘legal mandates’ fail to exploit the true talent of their employees”

Sachin Narke, chief learning officer, head- talent acquisition, and head-HR, Forbes Marshall

According to him, this kind of practice is not sustainable at all and will only result in disappointment and failure when it comes to work

However, if corporates see the benefits that a truly diverse workplace can grant them, then they’ll be able to look past the need to use people as tokens and hire them based on their merit.

Corporates could start by taking people from diverse backgrounds seriously, and see what they have to offer in terms of their talent and not just their identity. Narke believes that corporates are beginning to realise the kind of benefits they stand to gain if they hire smartly and respect their employees, and have started to do just that.

Biswaroop Mukherjee, head – HR, commercial vehicle business unit at Tata Motors, firmly believes, “Diversity is a way of life,” and it isn’t only restricted to one factor, such as gender. It is, and should go beyond that when corporates are thinking of hiring people.

“Diversity is gender neutral,” Mukherjee reiterates.

Indeed, corporates need to look past the tired definition of diversity that hinges only on gender, and make efforts to find people from different backgrounds.

Mukherjee believes that a diverse workforce gives rise to more constructive discussion at work and helps bring shades that could easily be forgotten otherwise. That’s why, a lot of corporates now are adapting to the idea of hiring people because of their diverse experiences and giving them freedom to speak out at work.

A workplace that is culturally rich and inclusive is always going to reap the benefits for everyone at the end of day. Tokensim, on the other hand, can only build more hurdles at work and be more of a headache than relief to the corporates if they continue the practice.

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