‘you have to be adaptable, obviously’: Constructing professional identities in multicultural workplaces in Hong Kong

Stephanie Schnurr and Olga Zayts


In spite of the increasing globalisation of the work domain and the mobilization of the workforce (Wong et al. 2007) only very little attention has been paid to the interplay between culture and professional identities in workplace contexts. This paper addresses this gap by exploring some of the ways through which professionals are required to construct and negotiate their various identities in increasingly multicultural contexts where notions of culture may become particularly salient. We focus on multicultural workplaces where, we believe, the intricate and complex relationship between culture and identity is particularly well reflected: In these contexts members are on a daily basis exposed to culture-specific perceptions, assumptions, expectations, and practices which may ultimately be reflected in workplace communication, and which impact on how professional identities are constructed. Drawing on a corpus of more than 80 hours of authentic workplace discourse and follow-up interviews conducted with professionals we explore how expatriates who work in Hong Kong with a team of local Chinese construct, negotiate and combine aspects of their professional and cultural identities in their workplace discourse. Our particular focus is on two issues that have been identified in participants’ interviews: Sharing decision making responsibilities and negotiating a work-life balance. Our analysis of these two aspects illustrates the complex processes of identity construction from two different but complementary perspectives: i) the ways in which participants portray themselves as adapting to, negotiating or rejecting the new culture in which they work and live; and ii) the ways in which these perceived identity construction processes are actually reflected in participants’ workplace discourse.

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