When Tokens Matter: A Critical Perspective on Tokenism and Women on Corporate Boards

Tanusree Jain, Deirdre Ahern, Harry J. Van Buren III

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingArticle in proceedingsResearch


This essay challenges the existing understanding of tokens and tokenism within the particular context of women on corporate boards. We argue that extant tokenism scholarship adopts a reductive logic that equates tokens with tokenism and assumes numerical underrepresentation of women as an implied signal of lack of power, thereby failing to fully reflect the differential power of tokens as prospective agents of both personal and inter-group change. Integrating perspectives from social psychology, we offer a more nuanced understanding of tokens by proposing four categories of tokens: (1) the marginalized token; (2) the passive token; (3) the queen bee token; and (4) the changemaker token. These theorized categories aim to capture how women board members can differentially navigate group dynamics within the collective, contextualized on organizational norms and culture and responses of the dominant gender group, consequently affecting the prevalence of tokenism on corporate boards. Our essay has relevance for gender discourse and management research.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAcademy of Management Proceedings
EditorsSonia Taneja
Number of pages1
Place of PublicationBriar Cliff Manor
PublisherAcademy of Management
Publication date2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes

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