Social identity is often defined as one’s self concept that is constructed based on one’s traits that we were born with as well as how we classify ourselves into the different social categories set by society. “According to the Social Identity Theory (SIT), people tend to classify themselves and others into various social categories, such as organizational membership, religious affiliation, gender, and age cohort” (Davidson, 2). Growing up, I was first-born child in a middle-class family of 4. Originally from Myanmar (Burma), my family migrated to Singapore in prospects of finding a better life. As such, I spent a majority part of my childhood in Singapore. My family are Buddhists and naturally, I grew up with affiliation to Buddhism and it became a huge part of our lives. Studies have shown that diversity is an important factor and the more diverse team of problem solvers end up outperforming the high ability problem solvers. The world is a huge place and people from all walks of life each has different experiences and social identities that make them unique. Diversity is important because people with different identities each have their personal opinions on a certain matter at hand and with each differing viewpoint, it adds to the value and diversity. Organizations thrive on diversity as having more acceptable viewpoints means there is higher chance of success when it comes to innovation. Social identity is how we position ourselves based on our traits in society’s context and this is where self-awareness come into play. Social identity then would lead to various opportunities or barriers which might affect the way we live, think and work.
Growing up in Singapore as an immigrant made me more socially aware of my race. One of the amazing things about Singapore would be that it is a multiracial, multi-religious and multi-lingual country where people live harmoniously together. As part of our education regulations, I took up Chinese as a second language. This was where things got tough. Education in Myanmar was a completely different; my parents learned everything in Burmese and could barely speak proper English. Being Burmese, a clear barrier that I faced was education. I had to learn English and Chinese on my own and not being able to speak and converse in both those languages at home made reinforcing my learning and mastery of the language more difficult. Every cloud has a silver lining and that meant that I was able to learn about the religious customs, beliefs and traditions of other populations residing in Singapore. Spending Chinese New Year with my Chinese friends, Hari Raya Aidilfitri with my Malay friends and Deepavali (festival of lights) with my Hindu friends gave me different perspectives and a deeper appreciation of life. My diversified background would mean an advantage in terms of providing solutions to problems. “The Diversity Trumps Ability Theorem implies that hiring people out of high individual abilities may be less important than hiring people with diverse skills if those employees will work as part of a team” (Scott, 11). A study by Dr. Scott Page from the University of Michigan explains about how groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers under a set of conditions. I can certainly agree that having these wide range of experiences had certainly broadened my way of thinking, boost creativity and innovation in terms of solving complex problems.
Being a Buddhist, it has certainly taught me many principles in terms of morals and ethics and this guided me to live differently from others. “One central belief of Buddhism is often referred to as reincarnation” (Saisuta 1) The goal is to reach Nirvana, a state where there is no more pain, suffering and desires. It resembles heaven where there is peace and happiness. Since young, I have been exposed to the Buddhism way of life where my parents would remind me to do the right thing, help others in need and never inflict harm on others. This helped to shape some of my personalities as well as create a positive image for myself. “Identity is especially helpful during social interaction, as it guides the way you present yourself and act towards others” (Polzer & Elfenbein, 2). Being a compassionate person, the image I present makes me seem like someone who’s considerate and approachable which makes it easier for me to make friends. Being approachable, trustworthy, fair and honorable are some of the traits that helped me as a leader in the military. Soldiers in the military would often try to hide illegal acts or mistakes that they have made simply because of fear of punishment even though they might not be at fault. With the projected image, I often get people to report and own up to their mistakes while ensuring that I give fair judgment by trying to understand their position. However, one of the barriers I face because of me showing kindness would be people trying to lie and take advantage of my kindness. There will be times where I would give the benefit of doubt and not pursue the matter and people would try to exploit it. This might seem like a weakness in the corporate world and might hurt my opportunities as I progress up the ladder.
Another part of my social identity would be my socio-economic status. I was brought up in a middle class setting where my family lived comfortably. My dad is an engineer while my mom is a homemaker. Growing up in this status had been a blessing in disguise where I do not have to worry about not having a shelter to live under or what will my next meal be. It taught me the importance of financial literacy along with being grateful for what I have. It also taught me to be humble and respectful towards others no matter their position in life. I treat everyone with respect and good mannerism. However, there are barriers present such as the lack of connections which makes it harder to climb up the corporate ladder and reduced opportunities to pursue certain passions and education. Singapore is a small nation with limited land and opportunities in popular sectors such as the banking, technology and financial sectors are limited and capped where only the fittest survive. Without both capital and connections, it will prove to be difficult in finding a fast track career. “Few people set out to exclude anyone through such acts of kindness. But when those in the majority or those in power allocate scarce resources (such as jobs, promotions and mortgages) to people just like them, they effectively discriminate against those who are different from them” (Banaji Et Al, 3). One of the experiences I had was when I applied for a banking internship with my friend. After applying, my friend eventually got the interview and landed the job while I didn’t even manage to get an interview. Competition was tough as always, but it turned out that my friend’s dad were classmates with some of the people working in the industry and I guess that’s what gave him an edge. Therefore, socio-economic status relates to the connections you have, and this can clearly be a huge help especially when it comes to look for opportunities. For me, despite this disadvantage, I can only find ways to forge my own connections to make up for it, work smarter and harder than the rest to prove myself.
Ultimately, I hope that these aspects of the identities I affiliated with would help shape me into a more trustworthy leader with strong work ethics that will help me move up in the leadership ladder. While my parts of my social identity are different, it is this difference that makes me unique and allow me to have a differing point of view and a different heuristic which ultimately becomes an advantage when it comes to adding to the diversity of the workplace.