The double-edged sword of ethnic similarity

Introduces Shea Fan's work on ethnic identity confirmation in a Chinese host context


Smooth interactions between local employees and expatriates are crucial in creating a positive and effective work climate in MNC subsidiaries. Last year, I posted about a paper forthcoming in Human Resource Management by one of my talented PhD students: Shea Fan, based on survey data with dyads of expatriates and local employees. Entitled the Benefits of Being Understood, it illustrated the double-edged sword for overseas Chinese expatriates of sharing an ethnicity with local Chinese employees. This post became one of the ten most read posts in my first year of blogging, so it is clear that there is a lot of interest in this topic.

Today, I am proud to announce a second paper, accepted for Journal of World Business, on the same general theme drawing on experimental data with local Chinese employees.

  • Fan, S.X.; Harzing, A.W. (2017) Host country employees' ethnic identity confirmation: Evidence from interactions with ethnically similar expatriatesJournal of World Business, vol. 52, no. 5, pp. 640-652. Available online... - Publisher's version (free access!)

Shea's piece in the Conversation: Understanding identity is the key to succeeding in China is also worth reading as it outlines the key issues in lay language.


Employing expatriates who share an ethnicity with host country employees (HCEs) is a widespread expatriate selection strategy. However, little research has compared how expatriates and HCEs perceive this shared ethnicity. Drawing upon an identity perspective, we propose HCEs’ ethnic identity confirmation, the level of agreement between how an HCE views the importance of his/her own ethnic identity and how expatriates view the importance of the HCE’s ethnic identity, affects HCEs’ attitudes towards ethnically similar expatriates. Results of two experiments show that HCEs’ ethnic identity confirmation is related to HCEs’ perception of expatriates’ trustworthiness and knowledge-sharing intention.

Related blogposts