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‘Token Girl Engineer’ Called Out For Answering Honestly When Asked About Company’s Diversity At Recruiting Event


In recent years, more companies have made an effort to diversify their staff, including more women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and BIPOC candidates.

But when a company regularly points out that they are diversifying their staff, it can begin to feel ingenuine and sort of gross, cringed the “Am I the A**hole?” (AITA) subReddit.

So when Redditor tokengirlengineer was “voluntold” (volunteered by someone else without her consent) for yet another recruiting event, she decided to be blatantly honest about her experiences.

But when she was asked to leave the event and was later expected to meet with Human Resources (HR), the Original Poster (OP) wondered if she had gone too far.

She asked the sub:

“AITA for saying at a recruiting event that I am trotted out as the ‘token girl engineer’ for every recruiting event?”

The OP felt forced into helping recruit for the company.

“I work at a tech company. I’m one of two women in a technical role, and the other is very introverted and wouldn’t be great at recruiting.”

“So every time there’s a recruiting event, I get voluntold for it. It was especially frustrating for me because my whole team is under crunch time, and a day I spend recruiting is a day I have to make up later.”

At a recent event, the OP was asked an important question.

“I was at a recruiting event at a local college, and a young woman who was thinking of applying asked how the diversity at my company was, as she thought it looked good from our panel and promotional materials.”

“(Side note… Almost every person of color, woman, or queer presenting person on the promo materials has either quit or never worked there in the first place and modeled for the shoot.)”

The OP decided to answer honestly.

“I answered honestly in front of a small group, ‘Well, there are two women in technical roles, and as one of them, it sometimes feels like working two jobs. One as an engineer, and one as the ‘token girl engineer’ who gets pulled away from work for every photo op, or recruiting event.'”

“I explained further, ‘Honestly, if you like being a trailblazer and are prepared to take on the extra unspoken PR as the ‘girl engineer,’ you might find a role here fulfilling. But if you prefer keeping your head down to focus on the technical side, it is easier to do that at a company where there is more gender and racial diversity.'”

The OP was immediately reprimanded for her response.

“She appreciated my honesty, but the manager who was running the event told me to leave.”

“I have a meeting with HR and my manager tomorrow.”

“I don’t think my opinion will be any news to them as I’ve already told them I’m not interested in being assigned to photo ops or recruiting disproportionately because of my gender.”

“I’ve also pointed out that I’ve been told that it’s ‘important’ for me to be there to help recruit a more diverse staff since the company is trying to improve.”

The OP had mixed feelings about what happened.

“I feel like they’re mad that I said the quiet part out loud at the recruiting event… But it was an honest answer to the question, and I keep on being brought to these things for my ‘unique perspective’ and whatnot.”

“I think they might also see themselves as doing something good, trying to do outreach to a more diverse applicant pool, and see me as ruining that.”

“AITA for what I said about my job?”

Fellow Redditors weighed in:

  • NTA: Not the A**hole
  • YTA: You’re the A**hole
  • ESH: Everybody Sucks Here
  • NAH: No A**holes Here

Some agreed with the OP that this was a huge concern.

“You have summed up the majority of Diversity Marketing today.”

“Everyone tends to focus on Diversity based on demographics, specifically race, gender/gender identity, sexual orientation, and to a much smaller extent, religion. We provide a peaceful place to work free of negative attitudes based on those demographics.”

“People rarely talk about the true goal of diversity: a team with multiple, unique perspectives and experiences that could leverage those experiences to find new ways to solve problems effectively and efficiently. This is the aspect that is rarely talked about.”

“We tend to talk about promoting people who ‘encourage’ that diversity, but we actually promote people who deliver results, and so those managers almost always stick to known solutions. Even the most pro-diversity manager who immediately reprimands any sort of ‘-ism’ still only provides a peaceful place to work, not any actual innovation.”

“It is how diversity somehow morphed into ‘we hire people who look different,’ but they actually want people who think the same way, or want them to stay quiet when those experiences are negative.”

“Not to mention the diversity of other aspects, like economic class, political affiliation, sub-culture (Yankee vs Southern vs SoCal vs Pac NW), or even the diversity within various religions/sects that often goes overlooked. These tend to offer further unique perspectives that.” – seethroughtheveil

“It is vitally important that you at least raise the issue of disparate treatment on the basis of gender with HR. They should understand that this is a legal liability for the firm.”

“You might consider if this would be an acceptable added duty in exchange for more pay and a reduction of other duties so you are not having to make up missed work. If such an approach would be ok then get it in writing. Added duties merit more pay.”

“I am afraid that the HR meeting will be to warn you or otherwise begin disciplinary measures. Rest assured that your supervisor will now be pressured to document any and all perceived errors you might make in an effort to build a case to dismiss you for cause. HR is not your friend. HR is there to protect the company.” – que_he_hecho

“After your meeting with HR, whichever way it goes, compose an email to them afterward summarizing your meeting and their expectations of you going forward and wait for them to either confirm or change anything.”

“You’ll have it on the record that way. You’ll need to document everything if it’s going to get escalated if they decide to double down.” – SammyLoops1

Others recommended addressing this legally.

“I’ve been the token (I’m Black and a woman, yay). Just tell them no, and don’t do it anymore.”

“They’re taking your additional labor for granted and it’s to your detriment.”

“At the meeting tomorrow, say something like, ‘But I’m really confused at the issue here, are you saying that you don’t want me to give my unique perspective on the role here? Because as I said, I don’t want to be doing this but you told me that you value my insight and opinion. Is there an issue here with what I said?'”

“Play dumb to get them to say the quiet part out loud. They are walking a tight line that could you a very good discrimination case (I’m not saying do a case, that s**t is painful and long but you can leverage it to get them to leave you alone).”

“Also – if I were you, I would refuse to do any more recruitment, and look for a new job.”

“And consider speaking to a lawyer and deferring the HR meeting until after you’ve done so!” – annshine

“I hope OP does defer this meeting until after she has spoken to a lawyer. She may just get a good ‘scolding’ from her higher-ups, but this could get very ugly very fast if it doesn’t go her way.”

“Either way, letting them know she is seeking legal counsel will surely get them to sit up straight and know she is not going to be coerced or bullied into anything else. As well as anyone else who may be in this position now or in the future.” – SnooMacarons5460

“Contacting a lawyer is never a bad idea. Google employment lawyers in your area and give a few a call.”

“Some will have free to low-cost first-time consultations where they will tell you if it is something that could be a case. The worst thing that will happen by contacting a lawyer is them telling you you have no case.” – kawaeri

After receiving feedback, the OP shared an update about the meeting with HR.

“I had the meeting. I recorded it with their consent, even though that was hard to come to an agreement on.”

“I basically said that as I understood it, they had asked me to recruit because they want more female applicants and felt I could help recruit in a way the men on the team wouldn’t. And that they wanted me there to share my unique perspective as a woman in the field, is that correct?”

“My manager and HR confirmed that.”

The OP then started pointing out the details of her current position.

“I said that that role is often referred to as a ‘trailblazer’ but is also often referred to as a ‘token’ of a certain gender or race. But either way, the role was to publicly present the diversity of the company.”

“And as I understood it, that was a part of my role, as mandated by management. To assist them in recruiting other women.”

“I said I was asked about my experience by a potential applicant, and I answered in what I felt was an honest way.”

“I recapped that I had said:”

“1. There are two women here.”

“2. I feel that on top of a technical role, my role here as a woman is to be a trailblazer or token for other women.”

“And 3. If that dual role appeals to you, this would be a good fit. If a purely technical role appeals to you, this may not be a good fit.”

“I see this as similar to how other recruiters say, ‘This is a very fast-paced role. If you enjoy that role, you would be a good fit, but if you do not, you may not be.’ And I was wondering why I had been called to meet when other employees who had described the role and the sort of person they want to fill the role, have not been.”

Human Resources challenged her.

“The HR guy said that the word, ‘token,’ was often seen as having a negative connotation and I was deterring applicants”

“I said that ‘fast-paced’ is also seen as negative to people with outside obligations, for example. And I didn’t understand why being frank about the nature of my role was a problem.”

“In fact, recruiters are often encouraged to be frank to attract candidates who are genuinely good matches. It would help attract the sort of woman who would like to be a ‘token female engineer’ and deter the type of woman who would not.”

The situation escalated.

“My manager got frustrated and raised his voice to say, ‘NOBODY WANTS TO BE A TOKEN!'”

“And honestly, I just looked at him with a ‘no s**t’ face but said, ‘That doesn’t really track with your previous comments. You’ve frequently said that I should be proud to represent the company and that I am much needed at these events. It sounded like you see it as an admirable and much-appreciated role.'”

“He said I was being ‘a smarta**.'”

“I said, ‘I apologize, but I’m frustrated by a number of the contradictions in the messaging around this role. That I should be frank about the job expectations to recruit good fitting candidates; however, I should not be frank about my personal job expectations? Despite never having that been communicated to me?'”

“I continued, ‘Hearing that I should be proud and happy to represent the company as a female engineer to attract other women? But then hearing that nobody wants to be in my shoes and that if I describe my role I will deter applicants?'”

“I added, ‘To hear that the company is making efforts towards diversity, however, that effort doesn’t seem to continue to retention, as this year, four female employees quit, two were hired and then rapidly quit… This is a retention rate far lower than average.'”

The OP stood her ground.

“I questioned, ‘I’m frankly confused by what my role in this company is. Do you want an engineer or do you want a token?'”

“My manager snapped at me and said that I am an engineer.”

“I said, ‘I would like my job duties to reflect that.'”

“The HR guy said that I wouldn’t be permitted to publicly represent the company anymore.”

“I said okay. (I’m very not mad at that…)”

“So… I feel like my manager is p**sed off, but I’m well along in the interview process with several other companies, so hopefully that won’t be a problem anymore.”

“I’m not quitting until I have a new offer signed, but I’m not too concerned if I get fired and get unemployment.”

While the meeting with Human Resources did not seem to be fully resolved, the subReddit would be happy to know that the OP not only stood up for the position she’d been hired to perform, but she was also looking for other opportunities that might be a better fit.

Written by McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan has been a part of the George Takei family since 2019 when she wrote some of her favorite early pieces: Sesame Street introducing its first character who lived in foster care and Bruce Willis delivering a not-so-Die-Hard opening pitch at a Phillies game. She's gone on to write nearly 3,000 viral and trending stories for George Takei, Comic Sands, Percolately, and ÜberFacts. With an unstoppable love for the written word, she's also an avid reader, poet, and indie novelist.