The benefits of being understood: The role of ethnic identity confirmation in knowledge acquisition by expatriates

Shea X. Fan*, Christina Cregan, Anne-Wil Harzing, Tine Kohler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


In this article, we propose that the concept of ethnic identity confirmation (EIC), the level of agreement between how expatriates view the importance of their own ethnic identity and how local employees view the importance of expatriates' ethnic identity, can explain why expatriates who are ethnically similar to host‐country employees are sometimes less effective than expected when working overseas. Multinationals often choose ethnically similar expatriates for international assignments, assuming these expatriates can more effectively acquire knowledge from local employees. Thus, understanding the specific challenges that endanger the realization of this potential is crucial.

Our survey, administered to a sample of 128 expatriate–local employee dyads working in China, reveals that both ethnically similar and ethnically different expatriates acquire more local knowledge when EIC is high. However, the association between ethnic (dis)similarity and knowledge acquisition is direct for ethnically different expatriates, whereas for ethnically similar expatriates it is indirect via their perception of local employees' trustworthiness. We discuss this study's important implications and provide recommendations for multinationals on how to provide tailored support to expatriates who face different identity challenges.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-339
JournalHuman Resource Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • diversity
  • international HRM
  • knowledge management
  • social identity theory
  • trust


Dive into the research topics of 'The benefits of being understood: The role of ethnic identity confirmation in knowledge acquisition by expatriates'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this