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An introduction to intercultural competence in the workplace
An introduction to intercultural competence in the workplace

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3 Identity types

As you can see from completing the activities in Section 2, you have multiple identities that matter to you depending on the context and which develop because of the way you were raised or because of people you have met.

In the next activity, you’ll take a closer look at a number of dominant identity types that can become relevant in the workplace. These types are powerful because the identification with a community can generate a strong emotional response: this can take the shape of a shared sense of pride and achievement, or a shared set of obstacles that have to be overcome to achieve equality with the majority or dominant group. Intercultural communication aims to build bridges between people who identify with different communities, and there might be more of these community types than you might think.

Activity 5

Timing: 20 minutes

Before starting the activity, let’s identify some crucial identity types. To start, our ‘personal’ identity refers to the summary of qualities and characteristics that distinguish us from others, whereas our ‘social’ identity represents affiliations with groups and roles and their emotional significance.

‘Class’ identity matters in some societies more than in others. This kind of identity is an identification with other people who share our own socioeconomic status. ‘Physical’ identity is something we might not consider in case we think our physical characteristics are simply ‘normal’. We might however identify with people who share experiences with us based on physical factors that are not as common in our group. This can refer to appearances, like having a beard, or physical disability. You might be able to think of some examples yourself!

Now see if you can match explanations for a few other, equally important, identity types by yourself. Have a look at the terms and definitions below, drag and drop the definitions to the correct terms.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. … is identification with and perceived acceptance into a larger group with whom we share values, beliefs, and traditions.

  2. … are based on either physical characteristics and/or cultural beliefs and practices.

  3. … refers to the sense of ‘feeling at home’ with more than one group and can be the result of additive bilingualism.

  4. … is an enactment of the identification with or resistance to societal expectations of an individual based on their sex.

  5. … refers to a sense of belonging to a political or geographical unit or location, and a sense of shared ideas about ‘ways of being’ with individuals who were born and/or raised within the same borders.

  6. … refers to a perceived groupness of people with similar cognitive abilities or mental disorders with shared life experiences as a result.

  • a.Gender identity

  • b.Cultural identity

  • c.National and regional identity

  • d.Racial and ethnic identity

  • e.Multicultural and multilingual identity

  • f.Mental identity

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = b
  • 2 = d
  • 3 = e
  • 4 = a
  • 5 = c
  • 6 = f

Another important type of identity is professional identity. To begin with, there is a difference between organisational and professional identity. Can you guess what it is? Drag and drop the definitions to the correct type of identity.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. A felt connectedness with individuals anywhere who have the same job as we do.

  2. An identification with a professional, social or cultural organisation.

  • a.Organisational identity refers to…

  • b.Professional identity refers to …

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = b
  • 2 = a


Organisational identity does not necessarily refer only to the workplace. It can also refer to religious organisations or to an educational facility. You might still refer to groups of people in teams, clubs or institutions you have been part of as ‘us’ and feel a sense of loyalty and pride even after you have moved on.

When this happens in the workplace, organisational identity is often closely linked to organisational or corporate culture. Organisational culture concerns what behaviour is expected or deemed appropriate within an organisation, what values are emphasised and what hierarchy is enacted, as well as the degree of formality and the use of specialist language or jargon. Many textbooks in management studies claim that organisational culture often shares characteristics with the national culture of where a business was founded.


Multilingual, class and gender identity


Multilingual, regional class identity


Cultural, ethnic and gender identity


All of the above

The correct answer is d.


The correct answer is: all of the above

Now that you have received an overview of how identities emerge and what communities people might identify with based on shared experiences and views, you will zoom in on one identity type that seems to be the most prominent sometimes: national identity. Especially when abroad, people tend to give a lot of weight to this aspect of others and themselves. This is also the case when we work in international teams: University courses that prepare management students for such scenarios, almost exclusively focus on national identity and national culture. In the next step you will therefore explore what national identity consists of, where it comes from, and how disputed it is.