Monday, 2 February 2009

Do Biethnic or Biracial People Make Better Employees?

Do biethnic, biracial or bicultural adults make better employees at the workplace? 

This can be an extremely difficult question to research and any conclusions drawn could be rather provocatively over generalistic and even misleading. But the research question - 
"Does a Biethnic Background Provide Advantages in Adapting Socio-culturally to Workplace Norms and Behavioural Skills Requirements?" can give us more precise data.
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The number of biethnic or biracial people, who are children born to parents from different ethnic backgrounds has grown rapidly all over the globe. There are many studies of how biracial or biethnic children and adolescents adapt to their environment where monoethnic people, who are children born to parents from the same ethnic backgrounds are a majority by default.

But there is not much research on how biethnic adults adapt to the workpace.

As a research student at
Leicester University, UK I aimed to discover if a biethnic background provides any advantage to a biethnic adult in adapting to the modern international workplace. To make research manageable, once single country was chosen and this was Finland (because I live here).

Finland as a country is very different from a melting pot society like the USA or multiethnic UK. Only about 2% of the Finnish population of 5.2 million are of foreign origin and most of the biethnic people in Finland are in their childhood or youth. So there are not that many biethnic adults in working life in Finland.

How to Find Biethnic Employees in the Workplace?

  • The ethnicity of an employee is classified information and may not be known to managers or human resource departments. 
  • Biethnicity is not always physically visible and sometimes people don’t talk publicly about their ethnic backgrounds. 

This makes finding biethnic adults at the workplace very difficult. 48,5% of the people contacted, i.e., fourteen biethnic adults working in different organisations were located through snowballing technique and semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted.

The interviewees evaluated their own adaptation to the norms and behavioural requirements of their current organisation and also contrasted their own adaptation with how they saw monoethnic colleagues adapted to the same workplace.
Three main findings of the Biethnic Adult Workplace Adaptation Research:

  1. Biethnic adults adapt well to the international workplace in Finland, from their own perspective and also when they contrast their own adaptation to that of the monoethnic majority in the workplace.
  2. Biethnicity or a bicultural background and other factors affect how biethnic adults adapt to the workplace in Finland. 
  3. Being biethnic or bicultural gives a unique perspective but personality traits, skills, motivation, individual life circumstances, and most importantly the interplay with others at the workplace play a greater role in the adaptation process.

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Measuring the Socio-Cultural Adaptation of Employees

How can the socio-cultural adaptation of employees at the workplace be measured? This is not very easy as there are many subjective components involved here. Some of the following criteria affect this issue of adaptation significantly.
  • What is understood by adaptation?
  • How do people define their own identities?
  • Do the terms biethnic, biracial and bicultural mean different things or do they get mixed up in the usage?
  • Is one person's ethnic or cultural identity externally visible or easily apparent and recognised?
  • Does the person consider adjustment, adaptation to the workplace as a desirable state of affairs?
  • Are the persons own criteria for success of adaptation the same as other peoples' criteria?
  • How does one know that one has 'successfully' adapted?
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Many even large organisations in Finland do not have any measures for facilitating the socio-cultural adaptation of employees by focussing on norms and behavioural skills requirements, though they regularly have normative systems for inducting new employees by guiding them through work processes, organisational systems, practical facilities and task requirements. 

People From Biethnic Backgrounds Adjust Well Socially

Yes, people from biethnic backgrounds adjust well socially, there is no indication that their adaptation is anyway faulty or less successful.

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Barack Obama, the eloquent president of the USA has now become a glorious mascot for biethnic people as highly successful and able individuals, who rise and succeed against many odds.

Successful socio-cultural adaptation to the workplace or organisational socialization is a very complex process dependant on many variables and the research subjects confirm this. The findings of this research, however, stand out in stark contrast to some earlier adaptation literature, which suggested that offspring from mixed marriages adjust badly socio-culturally.

What is the Message of Biethnicity Research for Organisations?

The working environment in our world has become more demanding and stressful, though many things have consistently improved over the decades. 

Management and human resource functions have become aware of the great importance of systematic and well-planned measures to manage talent in organisations. 

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The biethnicty workplace adaptation research findings suggest that organisations should consider integrating norms and behavioural skills requirements into strategies for improving organisational socialization of employees in addition to task and process induction commonly used in organisations.

More details of biethnicity workplace adaptation research here

Some other places where this news reported by different media can be found:


I will be continuing research on the same theme some day towards a doctoral degree.


Dimitri Andersson said...

Very interesting research. I am a biethnic myself. My father's from Sweden and mother from Greece. I've often looked for research of this kind but this is the first I've found.Great.

John Denver said...

Interesting finding. The fact that organizations don't provide these kind of induction measures is hardly surprising, even so in the current financial crisis. But this is a message for organizations.As an HR professional I can underline this as of great importance.

Authentic Change Coach said...

Hi there, thanks for this post. I have done a lot of research on "third culture kids" and that research is similar to what you are doing here. The definitive work on it is the book called Third Culture kids by Van Reken and Pollock. Please check it out.

I am a third culture kid. I think I made a great employee because I was always the gap bridger. I understood both the management side and the employee side of things but the truth is that the management never wanted to hear it.

Also, the TCK book shows that people that fall into that category tend to be restless about work and do not stay in jobs for too long until they actually find what they love.

By the way, third culture kids refers to kids such as missionary kids, military kids and diplomats kids that grow up in a non passport country and when they return to their passport country, they do not fit in. They feel more comfortable around people of similar nomadic background to them and thus they form this third culture.

I am a biracial third culture kid.


Nikhil said...

Good. I am biracial and in my circle most people adjust really well. Some don't but some people don't adust in all human populations. For me Obama has been a good mascot. Even if you might disagree with his policy, he is still a success as he became president.

Gabriel Day said...

Very interesting. I've also read the Third culture book. I'm biracial and have three biracial employees on my team. My experience is similar to your findings. They all are great employees, but sometimes need more understanding. I don't know about the restless stuff, as many other ambitious people are restless too.