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Moving Past “Tokenism” with Dr. Candy Khan

Dr. Candy Khan

Founder and Director

Canden Consulting

Award Winning Diversity and Inclusion Educator

Intercultural Specialist.

Interview by Denise Young, WIL National Diversity and Inclusion Advisor and CEO and Consultant of Tiger’s Eye Advisory Group

I was approached by my manager suggesting that “we just won an award for our positive culture and there will be an opportunity for pictures. Considering that we are all white, we need some colour, could you come with us”. This experience left Sabrina distraught, who is a South Asian woman of colour. A personal example is I was approached by my manager suggesting “hey we are creating a branding campaign and we need some colour. Can we invite Samantha, I think that she has dark skin? I left the meeting feeling sad and frustrated. Inviting people with diverse backgrounds in this manner is not being inclusive, it is not valuing diversity. Rather, this is referred to as “Tokenism'' which is “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.”(Merriam Webster). Tokenism is when we invite a Black, Indigeneous, Person of Colour to sit on a board, agency, and policy table but you do not value their lived experiences and voice. When organizations use marginalized groups as “tokens” this is harmful not only to the marginalized employees but to the structure of the organization and does not create an inclusive and respectful workplace culture.

This week I interviewed Dr. Candy Khan who has over 30 years of experience in working in organizations to help create change to make it more diverse, equitable and inclusive. She recently co-authored “Working Wounded: Six Ways to Manage Workplace Culture” which was written during the global pandemic. The book's main message is that “Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) employees experience organizations differently therefore their experiences are often dismissed”. Therefore, leaders need to explore their policies and practices and ensure that they value workers' inherent differences, and experiences.

Candy suggests the following tips of creating safe and inclusive workplaces:

Don’t develop policies in isolation or with a homogeneous group of people

Ask yourself, who is at the table, and which lenses am I missing, avoid group think.

Don’t invite people as mere “tokens” ensure you value diverse experiences.

Audit your current hiring process, who is seconded, has access to training dollars, special assignment, mentorship opportunities,

Create a robust complaint resolution process

Provide training and education for staff and leaders

Other action items taken from “Working Wounded”:

Climate audits and assessments done by a unbiased third party

Accountability (checks and balances)

Meaningful and intentional inclusive education programs

Whistleblower protection and External Advocacy

Third party investigations of unacceptable behaviour

“We must move beyond the tokenism of Dress, Dance, Dinner and Dialect”,

Dr. Candy Khan

LinkedIn: Dr. Candy Khan

Books: Working Wounded: Six Ways To Manage Workplace Culture

Amazon (E-workbook also available)

Article written by Denise Young, MAct, Bmgt, WIL National Diversity and Inclusion Advisor and CEO and Consultant of Tiger’s Eye Advisory Group



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