identity construction workplace different reactions ethnic minority groups organizational diversity

“Identity construction in the workplace: Different reactions of ethnic minority groups to an organizational diversity policy in a French manufacturing company”

Yang, I., Bacouel-Jentjens, S. (2018)

This study investigates how a French manufacturing company responds to institutional forces concerning its diversity policy and how employees react to it, particularly those belonging to minority groups not addressed by the policy. Such questions are relevant to the legitimacy of organizational diversity policies and employees’ perceptions of diversity in particular environments.

Diversity can refer to differences in general, but demographic features based on gender and ethnicity have become the main focus of diversity policies in companies around the world (Chatman and Flynn, 2001). Women and ethnic minority groups are the most widely recognized low-status groups (cf. Terjesen and Sealy, 2016), because their physical distinctiveness is readily apparent and thus susceptible to stereotypical categorization and discrimination (Phinney et al., 2006). Social awareness of gender and ethnic inequalities has increased and many countries have passed legislation to improve the status of disadvantaged groups and codify their right to equal opportunities (Reichel et al., 2010).

Our investigation deals with organizational diversity in the French context, which is of particular interest as France has adopted two different approaches to diversity, legally mandated and voluntary action (Klarsfeld, 2009). France has, for instance, passed laws to ensure gender equality, but France’s universal model of citizenship does not recognize ethnic minority groups so France has refrained from collecting statistics based on ethnicity and religious affiliation. Therefore, while gender diversity policy is legally framed, ethnic diversity programs are voluntary. Given the divergence in the French government’s approach to gender and ethnicity, we were interested in ethnic minorities’ reactions to organizational diversity policies that address gender discrimination but not ethnic discrimination. This is an important topic as France has a significant ethnic minority community (Maghrebi and sub-Saharan Africans are the most prominent ethnic minorities) and diversity policy does not encompass ethnicity.

Although France has a long history of immigration, cultural diversity is a controversial concept as the French model of ‘universal citizenship’ sits in opposition to multiculturalism (Tatli et al., 2012). The French model views internalization of universal values as a major feature of the national integration process (Schnapper et al., 2003). The French Republic separates the public and private spheres as well as the state and church and expression of cultural, religious, or ethnic background and differentiation based on such background must remain in the private sphere (Bertossi, 2011). Individuals are expected to assimilate universal national values regardless of their religious or ethnic identity (Heckmann and Schnapper, 2003). Almost 45% of French people declare themselves to be agnostic or atheist (INED-INSEE, 2010) and the French religious landscape is characterized by continuing secularization; nevertheless, there has been the emergence of Muslim religion, mainly among immigrants and descendants of immigrants.

In the 1970s, 40% of the foreign workforce but only one-third of French nationals held industrial jobs (Bracke, 2009). In particular, in the 1960s, up to 50% of the blue-collar workforce of the French automobile industry employed in their Parisian production sites consisted of immigrants (of whom one-third were Algerian; Pitti, 2006). Paris and its outskirts are France’s major economic centers and therefore attract 40% of the immigrant population, particularly those from Africa (Brutel, 2016).

We analyzed data from 35 interviews to characterize organizational efforts to comply with regulations in the form of gender-affirmative actions. Among ethnic minorities, there were three different reactions to gender-based affirmative action policies that were not accompanied by ethnicity-based affirmative action policies: indifference, focus on gender issues, and discontent. We propose three identity constructions could explain these reactions: dissociation, selective association, and heightened identity, respectively. Together, our results demonstrate trickle-down effects from institutional forces to organizational diversity policy, and hence to construction of identity by minorities within the organization.