Writer: Joel Otim

The white-collar world isn’t merely board rooms and chilly air conditioning, It goes beyond the black suits and ties and high heels, It is all about trying to fit into the fast growing global village. The male dominated competitive context of management positions has been characterized to be affected by a strong patriarchal culture.

In modern societies, culture has evolved and pressured the working world into compliance or should I say into creating a cosmetic reality in order to show a level of fast forward movement. Vices like tokenism which are less spoken about tend to emerge without criticism, ladies being appointed to positions not because of their credentials but their looks. Tokenism is defined as a practice of making a symbolic action by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups to create an appearance of racial or gender equality within the workplace.

The preference given to masculinity is embedded in cultural, societal, and professional norms of the context in which organizations operate and it is repeated throughout the organizational culture. These cultures often reproduce societal gender symbolism attached to positions and type of jobs. For example, technical jobs and tasks calling for physical strength are constructed as masculine and whatever is perceived as masculine is deemed to be important and whenever something becomes important, it is also perceived as masculine.

There are tailor made jobs for particular genders. A secretary or an assistant being a woman’s job. Statements like; we need a woman in our office for her face, so that we don’t get into trouble with the feminists have become popular in the cooperate world and thus women hired as tokens. Uganda on paper has tried to promote women’s rights with affirmative action being a train for inclusiveness but it should be noted that affirmative action is mainly implemented in the education sector and elective politics. But within the public service, private sector and professional associations, women are appointed into leadership positions as tokenism that is characterized by the “Deputizing Syndrome”.

The deputizing syndrome as mentioned above gets very uncomfortable especially if one holds more experience and better credentials. I also argue that if it is supposed to uplift women, at what point will stop but then some people will rebut saying the need to uplift women still exists. Therefore, hiring a woman because of her gender or because she is pretty and not considering her credibility may look acceptable on the surface of it but is in itself a tool of patriarchy.

The idea of tokenism isn’t only about gender but also strikes down to race and tribe, like how someone would be denied a job because a particular department is dominated by one tribe or race. Indeed, this seems to be a very good thing but when thought of critically, it would only mean that this is done only for fear of public ridicule and my just be a cover up and yet the vice of tribalism and racism would still manifest.

There is preference given to masculinity and this is embedded in cultural, societal, and professional norms in which organizations operate and is repeated through organizational culture. These cultures often reproduce societal gender symbolism attached to positions and type of jobs. Many places of work today are under severe pressure to portray a liberal working space that is welcoming to everyone. In the recent years and times, many initiatives, conventions and declarations promoting rights of women have focused on addressing the under-representation of women in public decision-making positions.

In Uganda there are various policy and legal frameworks that have the potential to support women’s participation in public decision-making processes and spaces. In theory, Uganda’s robust legal and policy framework guarantees gender equity and equality in the public and private spheres. The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995, clearly outlines the rights of women in Article 31, 32 and 33. The government also enacted the Equal Opportunity Commission Act of 2007, which promotes the elimination of inequality because of sex as well as affirmative action policies.

Does affirmative action offer a solution to inequality? or is it the subtle reason for the existence of tokenism?

Is affirmative action tokenism? if so then maybe tokenism is not that bad after all

Agreeable to note is that to prevent tokenism, there must be an integration of diversity and inclusion. Diversity is numbers; inclusion is culture. One cannot go well without the others. Managers and team leaders must create an environment where everyone feels connected and included.

There is more to be done including cultural erosion because affirmative action present in our laws won’t do a thing…… hire not the skirt but the person’s credentials and capabilities.

Leah Grace Oketcho, is a highly talented Communication specialist, gifted in leadership with over 3 years of leadership and management experience at different levels. She is a team player and has demonstrated ability in mobilizing and organizing others to achieve desired goals. Oketcho is well vast in the art of creating alternatives for ways to get results. She has over the years grown in the art of corporate communications and also participated in the development of performance management materials for various professional institutions. Leah received training in research, scripting, international relations, and data analysis as well as public relations. She is passionate about solving public health related problems. She has offered training to youth in oral and written communication, people management and mentoring, editing and documentation skills, public speaking.


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