Sparta's Media Hub

Are your ED&I practices purely tokenism?

Leadership needs real diversity, not tokenism. Sparta Global hosted an ED&I roundtable, on the topic of ‘Beyond Tokenism”. The event brought together powerful narratives and more than 20 influential leaders who are helping their companies move beyond symbolic ED&I efforts. Read below to find out more…


While organisations becoming increasingly aware of the visibility of their equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) efforts is a good thing - it also creates the perfect environment for tokenism to thrive. How can we sure our society is moving towards equity across careers, when some organisations’ actions are not entirely sincere? A robust ED&I policy needs to be effective at influencing and changing the workplace culture, by embedding ED&I into performance assessments in the workplace, creating safe spaces to encourage open dialogue, recognising and rewarding EDI productivity alongside technical productivity, and allocating funding for long-term investment.

What is tokenism?

The Network defines tokenism as, ‘diversity without inclusion’ - a superficial endeavour to appear diverse without creating a genuinely inclusive environment. What are some examples to look out for?

On Wednesday 8th June, Sparta Global hosted a breakfast roundtable with more than 20 ED&I leaders and advocates from some of the UK’s most influential organisations, including Shell, Deutsche Bank, and Deloitte. The roundtable attempted to tackle this issue head on by enabling an exploration of what must be done beyond surface level ED&I practices to enable teams to make diversity part of an organisations’ DNA – and not just a checklist.

ED&I leaders and their view on tokenism

Leadership teams must be invested in genuine, sincere diversity practises to provoke a change in mindset and opinions within their organisations. The Sparta Global roundtable provided a safe and collaborative space to challenge and support our guest leaders’ current ED&I practices, while allowing attendees to share ideas of spotting and removing tokenism at a leadership level.

Some of our favourite points of discussion:

  • When it comes to equality, diversity, and inclusion strategy, we need to focus on the start lines, not the deadlines.
  • Allyship is about inviting in, not calling out.
  • We might not see the change we are all trying to make in our lifetime – but we must still strive to pass a baton that shows progression.
  • Some changes may seem small - a 1% shift towards inclusivity and equity in business at times - but this is how you make sustainable change. The Network even suggests measuring impact over percentage. It is not enough to simply employ a diverse workforce; we must provide a platform for them to have a voice and influence.
  • Why are we calling them Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)? These are activism groups! We must stop exploiting diverse communities and only engaging them when we need their opinion or insight on something.
  • There are businesses that will see someone from a minority group and expect them to be a representative or advocate for their entire community. This is not inclusive and will not foster a sense of belonging.
  • Minority groups are often expected to lead activism and campaigns for change for their communities through company networks, but to do so alongside often full-time roles. Senior leaders must be accountable and ED&I must be written into their day-to-day role.
  • Being liked in business is not important, people need to feel safe to embrace discomfort and be difficult if their perspectives are not being considered. On this, is everyone allowed to be difficult? Will younger, minority talent be penalised for speaking up?

To avoid tokenism, organisations must begin with assessing their recruitment and hiring practices. These processes must be inclusive, through the creation of inclusive job descriptions, a diverse interview panel and transparency on the ED&I practices employed within the organisation.

Play Video