Navigating panethnic categorization in the workplace: A study of British Sri Lankan employees

Dulini Fernando*, Etlyn Kenny

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A wide range of ethnic groups make up labour markets in most advanced economies. However, we lack a nuanced understanding of how specific groups experience minority ethnic identity within the workplace. This article addresses how an under-represented minority ethnic group, British Sri Lankans, experience being assigned a broad Asian panethnic identity in their workplace, which is both positively and negatively stereotyped. Drawing on theories of social identity-based impression management and self-stereotyping, we highlight how individuals responded to panethnic stereotypes imposed on them by both claiming and rejecting a broader Asian identity, and at the same time attempting to carve out a more distinctive British Sri Lankan identity. We advance knowledge of the multi-level nature of ethnic identity, demonstrating ways in which movement between superordinate and subordinate levels of ethnic identity can occur. Counter-intuitively, we suggest that individuals’ positive self-stereotyping efforts may, over time, contribute to a more constricted career path that may leave them less prepared for senior management positions. Practitioner points: To help facilitate the development of genuinely inclusive organizations and maximize the use of available talent, practitioners need to be vigilant about the prevalence of ethnic group stereotypes in contemporary work settings. Practitioners should not discourage conversations around ethnicity and culture at work, but they should make it clear that the aim is not to encourage the proliferation of group stereotypes. Proliferation of group stereotypes may contribute to unconscious bias.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)769-797
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology
Issue number4
Early online date1 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2018 The British Psychological Society


  • career
  • ethnicity
  • identity
  • impression management
  • model minority
  • panethnicity
  • stereotypes


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