Leveraging minority identities at work: An individual-level framework of the identity mobilization process

By: Laura Morgan Roberts, Sandra E. Cha


Research on the business case for diversity suggests that organizations may gain important advantages by employing individuals from minority identity groups—those that are historically underrepresented and lower status—such as distinctive perspectives and greater access to minority customers and constituents. Organizations’ ability to capitalize on the promises of diversity ultimately depends on minority employees’ willingness and ability to draw on their distinctive strengths at work. However, little research has explored how employees perceive and act on potential advantages associated with their minority identity at work. Addressing this gap, we draw on in-depth interviews with 47 racial minority (31 Asian American and 16 African American) journalists to develop a conceptual framework of the process of identity mobilization—the steps through which individuals can deliberately draw on or leverage their minority cultural identity as a source of advantage at work and how this process is sustained or disrupted over time. The framework includes four different pathways through which individuals can leverage their minority identity to facilitate progress toward work-related goals and four identity mobilization tensions that can disrupt the identity mobilization process. Our research has significant implications for theory and practice related to diversity, identity, and positive organizational scholarship.