Businesses are rightfully prioritising inclusivity in the workplace, but they can run the risk of being called out as performative, especially if that support is half-baked and superficial.
Tokenism is an example of that performative behaviour, and is a problem that unfortunately runs rampant across businesses of all sizes.
What is tokenism, and why is it a problem? 🤔
Tokenism is the practice of making a surface-level effort to support underrepresented groups, while giving the impression of equality.
Aside from the obvious moral ethics behind tokenism, this kind of behaviour can damage your business’ reputation. A damaged reputation can be detrimental for HR teams who have aggressive hiring targets - particularly at a scaleup.
Half-baked sentiments don’t translate well when it comes to a diversity of applications. In fact, applicants from underrepresented groups will scrutinise your company’s policies and behaviours more carefully, and a damaged reputation is difficult to fix.
HR teams at scaleups face different challenges around this, compared to large corporations; these teams have fewer resources, limited budgets, and need to wear many hats. So what can HR teams at scaleups do to support employees genuinely?
"The best place to start is by reviewing existing policies for signs of exclusivity, and getting a second pair of eyes on your handbook"
1. Operationalize your culture 📝
If a company doesn’t operationalize culture in a way that includes diversity and representation, it’s not going to succeed - you’ll face two problems:
- Your employees will believe that culture refers to having beers in the fridge, instead of facilitating an environment that enables a diverse group of people
- You’ll tokenize your employees - you’ll shirk over your responsibility as a business to support and enable them, and leave representation as a task for the underrepresented
We prevent these problems from surfacing at Juro by clearly defining our culture. What do we expect from our employees, known as Jurors, and what will we give them in return? How can we promote inclusivity in everything we do, from socials to healthcare benefits to remote working?
Company culture can be seen as a vague buzzword that encompasses ‘perks’ employees receive at a business - but there’s so much more to it than that: company culture refers to how people work together.
2. Ask for advice! 💬
It’s so simple and yet so effective - just ask your colleagues for advice! For example, during the Islamic month of Ramadan I reached out to our Muslim Jurors to ask them how the company could best support them during this month of fasting - whether that involved changing their working hours, or being mindful of meetings during prayer times.
Showing support can be as simple as asking and listening to your employees - but it makes a huge difference. The best place to start is by reviewing existing policies for signs of exclusivity, and getting a second pair of eyes on your handbook.
3. Start with the quick wins 🏆
There’s plenty you can do to support your employees genuinely, without spending a penny. A few examples from Juro:
- Setting aside a meeting room for prayer and meditation. For some Jurors, finding a quiet space to reflect can be challenging, especially when working at a busy scaleup, in a busy city like London! We’re working on transforming one of our meeting rooms into a space where Jurors can take a break
- Explicitly calling out period cramps in sick leave. Acknowledging the pain and discomfort women go through every month doesn’t cost you anything - but rather, builds trust and respect between the company and employees who are women. Giving them the opportunity to take time off for cramps, headaches and so on, and explicitly making this clear, can have a big impact
- Setting up regular lunch ‘n learn sessions: from learning about the Stonewall riots, to a session on the East End Women’s Museum, to neurodiversity - these regular lunch ‘n learns (organized over Zoom) bring the company together to learn about how we can be more inclusive and respectful across various issues
These don’t require a huge budget, or months of pre-planning; just a willingness to listen.
"Empty sentiments will only get you so far; applicants, and employees, can see right through it, and it leads to a toxic work culture"
4. Match the energy 🙌
Tokenism exists when the energy is one-sided - if the employees doing the work don’t receive support and encouragement from the business on their initiatives, whether it’s celebrating Pride month or setting up a project to amplify women’s voices in the workplace.
Matching the energy of your colleagues is incredibly simple - one of our Jurors wanted to do a presentation on the Stonewall Riots. The company decided to add a Pride-related drinks celebration to the end of his presentation.
One of our colleagues was fasting during Ramadan - the company decided to arrange a voluntary fasting day, donating money to a charity of her choice for each participant.
Empty sentiments will only get you so far; applicants, and employees, can see right through it, and it leads to a toxic work culture. Act on the existing energy, match it, and double it if you can.
5. Assign someone to lend the business an ear 👂
Operationalizing your culture and having a system in place can really help with this point - especially if you’re part of a lean HR team at a scaleup.
Make sure you assign a champion who can both consult finance to establish what the company is capable of, and support employees who want to take charge on initiatives and projects.
This person could be a coworker from your HR team, a director from a different team, or a colleague who cares strongly about this additional responsibility - so long you trust them, and they’re good at listening and offering support where necessary.
6. Work off-cycle 📅
If you’re following the crowd to make a statement, chances are, your message will be drowned out by all the other businesses following the same comms stream.
Pride is an excellent example - corporations will shout their advocacy for LGBTQ+ from the rooftops … and then fall silent as soon as June, Pride month, is over.
If you don’t want to push out your message, or limit it to a certain time period, try going off-cycle. For example, at Juro we tend to wait until the initial noise around Pride dies down before planning our Pride-related events, organizing lunch ‘n learns, and so on.
Supporting your underrepresented employees is a moral obligation that, if achieved in the right way, can have lasting impacts on your business as you continue to scale. And it doesn’t need to involve a huge budget, lengthy project plan, or endless resource - just an enthusiasm and a willingness to listen and learn.