The double-edged sword of ethnic similarity for expatriates

Introducing Shea Fan's work on the double-edged sword of ethnic similarity

My former PhD student Shea Fan has published quite a few papers out of her PhD, alll summarised here: Managing expatriates' identity: subtle desire, big impact, covering respectively a conceptual framework of ethnic identity self-verification, a dyadic survey on the role ethnicity in expatriate-host country employee relationships, and an experiment on the same topic with host country employees.

However, it took us a while to write up a paper on the interviews she did during her PhD. As the results were so rich and evocative, we decided to turn it into a paper for a wider audience, including practitioners. The paper found a home in Organizational Dynamics and we couldn't have been happier with the reviewers and the editor, who all worked tirelessly to help us turn this in the best paper it could be.


Identifying employees to represent headquarters (HQ) effectively in overseas units is a management challenge faced by all multinational corporations (MNCs). To date, management of this type of expatriate employees has accorded a central role to culture, such as understanding cultural differences, facilitating cultural adaptation and adjustment, and cultivating cultural intelligence. Although culture is a critical factor in explaining expatriates’ experiences, identity offers an alternative angle to reveal the challenges that occur when expatriates interact with host country employees. In this article, we introduce ethnically similar expatriates – a sub-category of expatriates who share an ethnicity with host country employees – to showcase the role of identity, especially the interpersonal dynamics associated with ethnic similarity.

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