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

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External organisations

  • Warwick Business School, University of Warwick


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 underrepresented 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.


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


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