“Token hire” is a derogatory term used by privileged people to express their prejudiced attitudes towards minorities. The term carries a lot of implications about the employee and the reasons for hiring a minority employee, but the most common feature is the assumption that the hired employee is incapable of doing the work and was hired only because of their minority status and lacks the necessary qualifications to do the job. It is often used in a reductive and over-generalizing way because it reduces an incredibly complex equation (evaluating each aspect of a candidate’s qualifications) into a single variable (“token hire”).
This can be confused with a “diversity hire”, where a hiring manager like me chooses a candidate because they have a different background from others on the team. The main difference is that we’ve determined the diversity hire still has all of the necessary qualifications for the job and also brings the benefit of different lived experience and perspective to the team. Different perspectives allow for a broader set of ideas and solutions to the various problems we have to solve. The general principle is that diversity of team leads to diversity of ideas, and we tend to like diversity of ideas because that’s where we find the new and interesting ways to solve problems and do things.
Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a number of bitter and angry people use the term “token hire” as an insult, but never actually seen an employee that I would consider a “token hire”. I’ll let you know if I ever see one.
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