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Ethnicity meaning: what does ethnicity mean?

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Ethnicity definition

Ethnicity refers to an ethnic group that an individual belongs to. It typically refers to the identity of a group determined by its culture, religion, traditions, and customs. One of the earliest definitions of ethnicity is often credited to Herodotus, who defined the “Greekness” of his people through a checklist including the following: common blood, language, shrines, sacrifices and traditional ways of life. While scholars have expanded on the term since, they also moved away from some elements of the checklist including “common blood”, which is more frequently attributed to race rather than ethnicity.  

Whilst the terms “race” and “ethnicity” are frequently used together, it is important to understand the difference. The term "race" describes the idea of classifying individuals into groups according to different sets of physical traits and the process of giving those groups social significance. A person's ethnicity encompasses their language, background, religion, and customs, as well as their way of life in a particular geographic area. 

Real-world context

  • Recruitment & hiring: A substantial amount of scholarly literature has revealed that hiring managers have bias against minorities who are underrepresented. One well-known instance is a study by American Economic Association that employed a "resume audit". As part of the research, names were randomly assigned at the top of the resumes that were sent to various employers. Researchers discovered that resumes with names meant to imply the individual was Black (like "Lakisha" or "Jamal") produced fewer calls for interviews than resumes with names chosen to sound white (like "Emily" or "Greg"). Inclusive practices such as blind CVs and unconscious bias training for hiring managers need to be implemented in order to tackle these biases.  
  • Ways of working: Inclusion of various ethnicities is not limited to hiring processes; it can also be extended to the ways of working once the diverse candidates are recruited. For instance, not all cultures celebrate holidays that are traditional in western cultures – for example, Christmas. One example of an inclusive working practice includes encouraging your workers to use a shared calendar by noting the holidays that they will be celebrating. This can be a great way for colleagues to build stronger personal relationships and get to know one another better. 
  • Leadership & role modelling: Diverse role models and leaders are important for increasing workforce diversity. Seeing leaders from various ethnicities in the spotlight inspires junior staff to pursue careers in the organisations as they can clearly see a career path for themselves. Increasing the number of diverse leaders in the business assists in creating an inclusive culture and supports employee retention. 

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