I recently conducted a quick and dirty research survey, the response was phenomenal and I didn’t expect the process around the survey to become as interesting as the survey itself!
A lot of the research I come across assumes that minority ethnic professionals experience a tension between their ethnic culture and the culture of the workplace. This can make minority ethnic professionals feel like outsiders and can be stressful to deal with over a long period of time.
Biculturals, or individuals that have both experienced and internalised more than one culture, differ in their perception of this tension. For some it may not even exist because minority ethnic professionals don’t all have the same experience in the workplace. Academic research sometimes forgets this.
My quick and dirty survey explored the bicultural experience of minority ethnic professionals. I assumed that everyone has experienced an ethnic culture and that as a professional they had experienced a professional culture. As individuals, we engage in many cultures but these are the ones I am interested in. I am specifically interested in two areas that I was introduced to through the work of Dr Veronica Benet Martinez and Dr Jana Haritatos, I tweaked it for my own purposes:
This is the extent that the participants saw their cultural identities as being compatible or difficult to reconcile. I wanted to see if the participants thought the cultures could co exist. I used statements like:
- I find it difficult to balance my ethnic culture and professional culture.
- My ethnic culture and professional culture are complementary.
This refers to the extent that the participants saw their cultures as overlapping or disassociated. I wanted to see how the cultures coexisted for the participants. The statements here were slightly different:
- It is better to keep my ethnic and professional cultures separate
- I like to show both, the ethnic and professional sides of me.
This was quick and dirty, quick because the survey was open for 24 hours. Dirty because the respondents very broadly fit the description of my target audience. I am grateful to all who participated for the amazing response. The survey was for educational purposes and a condition of participation was that I would not publish the data. However I have some interesting feedback that is worth mentioning.
Interesting Points Raised
One participant raised the point about everyone having ethnicity, not just minority ethnic groups, I agreed and pointed them to my post where I discuss this.
Another person queried the assumption that everyone identified with his or her ethnic or professional culture. My assumption was that everyone had experienced an ethnic culture and a professional culture and that both are distinct, this reflects my current research and participants. I think that both of these cultures have salient attributes that have social meanings attached to them. i.e. eye colour is not salient, language; speech patterns and mode of dress are all salient.
The purpose of the survey was to explore the differences in how the participants manage and experience the social meanings of these cultural groups. An individual who didn’t “identify” with their ethnic culture would still employ a strategy to manage the social meanings associated with that culture in the workplace. A Ghanaian man who didn’t identity with being Ghanaian would still have to manage the social meanings of what it meant be black, African and male in the workplace.
People tend not to make assumptions about an individual’s abilities based on their eye colour but there are plenty of stereotypes around skin colour.
I assumed that individuals are required to manage their professional culture because they have chosen their occupation, my research is focused on those who opted to enter highly skilled occupational groups with elaborate systems of instruction, training, entry examinations etc. There were several other points raised but they all suggested that this was a challenging topic to engage.
The first time I saw the term biculturalism was by Professor Ella Edmondson Bell in her study of career-orientated African American women in the United States. In the study she found that the bicultural experience left individuals marginalised or living on the boundaries of two distinct cultures. I’m hoping to find a way to reveal the experiences of people who make it work to their benefit.
What are your bicultural experiences in the workplace?
Would you like me to share the survey for you to answer the questions?
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