Tokenism Recap

Our agency director, Kia Jarmon, spoke recently at Vanderbilt’s Wond’ry on a panel of women entitled Redefining Tokenism. The series was nothing short of powerful as the women, ranging from ex-military to chief executives, spoke on their definition of tokenism, how or when they realized that they were a token, and what they did to turn it around in their favor and use it to their advantage. The conversation was well received by audience members with some eager to learn how to let people, specifically minorities, know that they aren’t just tokens but valued contributors. Kia’s answer was simple: “You need to get out there and actually speak to who you are trying to reach, face to face, and build a relationship with that community.”

 Photography by Susan Urmy

Photography by Susan Urmy

Many of the women gave golden nuggets that the audience members could apply if they were facing similar situations. Here are some #quoteME’s to live and work by.

 Ashley Northington, Denor Brands - Photography by Susan Urmy

Ashley Northington, Denor Brands - Photography by Susan Urmy

  • Elizabeth Hart, one of the panelists and also an Associate Director of Communications with Tennessee Department of Health, made it a point to play it to your advantage. Instead of singling yourself out, “Network. Be vocal, open up, and reach out.” Stressing the point that networking and building bridges are key to help you to advance and learn as much as possible.
  • LoLita Toney, Director of Development & Chief of Staff at the National Museum of African American Music added, “Always take the meeting...always lead with you best self, digitally or physically.”
  • “Take advantage of those relationships. No matter who you are and what color you are,” stated one of the panelists, to which many agreed. “Make those contacts and connections. Form those relationships.” Hart stressed.
  • Susan Vanderbilt, founder and chief executive of Entreé Savvy, a consulting firm specializing in business development and diversity inclusion, stated that “service is the best form of leadership”, and “take initiative on gaining new skills and ultimately making yourself available to learn something new will make you more valuable and a necessary asset, rather than just a statistic.”
  • You can turn your tokenism into a leadership role, with one speaker stating that “you lead by the examples you set.”
  • Ashely Northington of DENOR Brands chimed in, stating that “You’re always going to be the “only” of something. The youngest. The only female. The only black woman...” continuing, “don’t worry about what skin [color you are]. Worry about if you’re good enough and the work always speaks for yourself.”
  • Thus, making it a point that even though initially a company has hired an individual to make themselves seem culturally or gender diverse, focus on doing good work and standing out professionally so that you “set a standard”, as stated by Consuela Knox, Director of Admissions Operations and Diversity Recruiting Manager at Vanderbilt University for Owen Graduate School of Management.
  • One of the panelists answered, “… {do} not focus on being just the only person in something, but rather how can I use my skills to help drive myself forward and instead, learn from others to further educate myself and know that I set the standard for excellence and how hard I work sets the tone.”
  • Kia made a point that not resisting is key. “The universe rises to meet you at the point of least resistance,” in reference to being unhappy or uncomfortable in the position that you are in. “Something amazing will happen once you stop resisting the thing you don’t love.” Those things mean more opportunities to level up and educate yourself as much as you can so that you can move ahead to a more rewarding and fulfilling path.
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Kimberley Alexandria-Day