Thursday, October 20, 2016

Understanding Relationships Between Expatriates and Citizens in The Kuwaiti Private Sector

Batul K. Sadliwala
Taking the 2nd module next year


For anyone who has lived in Kuwait for an extended period of time, the fragmentation of society along nationality lines is an obvious feature of life in a country with a population roughly half that of New York City. According to Kuwait’s Public Authority for Civil Information (PACI), of the country’s 4.38 million residents, roughly 69 percent are not Kuwaiti. Approximately 27 percent of the total population are non-Kuwaiti Arabs (from Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria etc.) and about 39 percent are non-Kuwait Asians (from India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Pakistan etc.). But interestingly enough, while much has been written and said about the treatment of domestic and migrant workers’ rights in the country, the nuances of overall social interaction between different nationality groups have been left relatively unexplored. Both recent and somewhat dated scholarship demonstrates that, despite its multi-national demographic make-up, factors including the trajectory of urban development (Al-Nakib 2016) and restrictive citizenship laws (Longva 1997) have facilitated the fragmentation of Kuwait’s society along nationality lines. Foreigners who have worked in Kuwait for several decades and raised families there continue to maintain their original nationalities because of stringent naturalization laws that, in any case, allow for no more than 50 naturalizations a year. Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis of different origins also tend to live in segregated areas of the city with, for example, Kuwaitis having very little reason to drive to the Indian part of town even if it is merely 5 minutes away. Yet, apart from the lived experiences of those such as myself –a third generation Indian expat in Kuwait---, the existence of social fragmentation itself and its dynamics have not been empirically tested. This in turn limits the extent to which one can speculate about its specific social and economic consequences for businesses, civil society, government and the country as a whole.

Existing studies of expatriate social networks in other parts of the world—although not necessarily using the techniques we learned in class-- provide mixed results about whether or not expatriate workers form homophilous social networks, depending upon a variety of socio-economic factors at the individual and host-country level. These include variables such as length of stay in host country, individual propensity to participate in indigenous social networks, cultural differences between home and host countries etc. (Harvey 2008, 1756-1758). But what is clear is that cross-cultural transition support and the development of meaningful relationships with host country nationals are significant for expatriates’ job performance and adaptation (Chiu et al 2009; Shen and Kram 2011).

Social network analysis can thus serve as a useful tool to understand how different nationality groups in Kuwait interact with one other and amongst themselves. For instance, it could be used to understand and compare participation in expatriate cultural associations by those from different countries of origin as a measure of support for cultural adaptation. It could also be used to understand the interaction (or lack thereof) between cultural associations and non-profit organizations whose membership and missions are defined by nationality as a means to measure the cohesion of local civil society. Analyzing the support and friendship networks of low-wage skilled and unskilled migrant workers would also be possible using social network analysis tools and could provide insight into how rights abuses can best be prevented, reported, and remedied. However, given that it would take years to collect the relevant data for any of these projects, I have chosen to pursue a much more modest, if still relatively ambitious, project.

The Project:

My project involves the comparison of the social and professional networks of private sector employees within a single private sector firm or division thereof in Kuwait, in order to examine the impact of nationality. Currently, according to PACI, approximately 76.4 percent of Kuwaitis are employed in the public sector while over two-thirds of every other nationality group is employed by the private sector. In the case of Asian non-Kuwaitis, the most populous grouping of expats, only 3.6 percent are employed within government. The private sector is thus where it would be possible to conduct a more representative network analysis, where at least the major nationality groups can be included. This is notwithstanding that employment distribution by nationality can vary across different industries such as construction, banking, retail etc. However, country-level employment data broken down by both nationality and specific industry is unavailable. Also, conducting a sector-wide or even industry-wide network analysis is not feasible within the given time frame. Thus the decision to work with a single corporation/office means that results of analysis will not be generalizable to the wider sector, let alone the country. Yet the results and utility thereof to the firms’ management could set a precedent encouraging other organizations in Kuwait to undertake similar studies of their staff’s social networks. Even so, to the best of my abilities, I will attempt to individually evaluate the demographics of each firm I intend to approach and select one whose nationality-mix is most similar to the country’s.

Moreover, as will become apparent below, my research question and the use of social network analysis in answering it could also benefit the firm’s management by providing them with important insight about the role of nationality in influencing employees’ collaboration habits and the connection between their professional and social relationships with colleagues. The analysis could also help the firm answer other questions about communication and collaboration within their organization. This is why it is only once I have established a relationship with a firm, will I proceed to finalize the survey and network questions so as to satisfy both my research and any related, specific decision-making needs of the management.
The Research Question:

The question I hope to answer through this project is: Are private sector employees’ instrumental and expressive ties within their workplace influenced by nationality? In other words, do employees’ nationalities affect how they collaborate with one another within the (name of company/department) and whether or not they develop friendships with their colleagues?

Instrumental ties are “work-related-advice ties, involve a person gathering information, advice, and resources necessary to accomplish a task” (qtd. In Chiu et al. 2009, 793). Expressive ties are, “positive affective ties (friendships) or negative affective ties (enmities), [and] involve expressions of interpersonal affect” (qtd. In Chiu et al. 2009, 793).

The Hypothesis:

I expect that both networks of instrumental and expressive ties will demonstrate significant clique and/or factional behavior along nationality lines but such fragmentation will be markedly more evident in the network of expressive ties.

Data Collection:

As of now, no pre-existing data on the social networks of private sector employees in Kuwait is available. I will thus have to conduct a survey at a private corporation and code the data myself. As stated above, I would ideally like to compare networks across different industries and firms so as to account for differences in organizational culture and function. However, due to time constraints and given the difficulties of conducting surveys and collecting data in Kuwait, I will instead use my personal network to contact top level management at 3-4 large corporations in Kuwait with the objective to set up the survey and gain access to the employees of one of them. This is also why I believe it will be more useful for me to take the second module next year, so that I have enough time to collect and code the data. Two corporations I am considering at the moment are Alghanim Industries and the Gulf Investment Corporation. Since these are both very large firms, I hope to be able to work with either of their managements to identify a particular division/department to survey. I intend to survey no more than a 50-100 employees in order to ensure a meaningful analysis.

The Network Questions:
Meanwhile, below are the tentative network questions to be posed to respondents*:

1.      To measure instrumental collaboration ties: How much do you typically communicate with each person listed below about work-related issues relative to others in your office?

Respondents will be asked to mark each of their colleagues along the following response scale:
1.     Not at all
2.     Occasionally
3.     Sometimes
4.     Frequently

2.     To measure expressive friendship ties: Please indicate up to 3 of your colleagues who you would consider to be personal friends i.e. those you see most frequently for informal activities such as going out for dinner, lunch, visiting one another’s homes etc.

*Questions adopted and modified from Cross and Parker (2004, 147-148)

These questions will result in two distinct bounded networks. The first will produce a valued directed network, while the second will create a binary directed network.

Attribute Data:

In order to answer the research question, the following attribute data will also be collected:

1.     Nationality
2.     Tenure in organization:
3.     Hierarchical level/job title
4.     Length of stay in Kuwait
5.     Whether or not they were born in Kuwait
6.     Whether or not they live with family
7.     Age
8.     Sex
9.     Whether or not they participate in expatriate cultural associations

Method of Analysis:

Depending upon the number of ties that emerge from the survey, I will first dichotomize the network of instrumental collaboration ties to look at stronger connections (sometimes and frequently) so as to ensure a meaningful analysis. However, comparing strong and weak ties would also be useful in identifying a a meaningful spectrum of levels of collaboration.

The next step would be to look at overall cohesion within each network. Comparing cohesion across the two networks would provide a foundational understanding of how connected, dense and centralized collaboration and friendship ties are, relative to one another. Computing E-I indices by nationality would hint at the potential presence (or absence) of subgroups. Using centrality measures, such as Betweenness and Eigenvector, would help identify influential individuals (leaders and brokers) whose attribute data could then be used to determine if nationality corresponds with power and popularity within the workplace. 

Based on the above, I would proceed to identify subgroups within each network using factions, Girvan-Newman and clique analysis and then see if these coincide with nationality (or an intersection of other attribute variables) in a coherent manner. Overlaying (joining) or comparing the two networks and the subgroups within them would help determine whether or not the network of instrumental ties is more fragmented along nationality than the network of expressive ties.

Lastly, in terms of the management’s other related decision making needs, my use of social network analysis will be guided by the specific question they may wish to answer.

Implications and Limitations:

Should the network analysis confirm the hypothesis regarding factional/clique behavior along nationality lines in the workplace, this would serve as proof for the need to improve cross-cultural relations within the organization surveyed and hint at the need to do so within wider society in Kuwait as well, Of course, it should be noted that, given the narrow focus of this project on a single department within a single firm, the results of the network analysis are not likely to be representative of country-level socio-economic interactions between Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis despite precautions in firm selection. Factors unique to the organization will offset the impact of contextual variables such as size of expat population, extent of homogeneity within expat population, difference in cultural norms, annual inflow of expats from home country (Harvey 2008, 1764) that are known to affect expatriates’ social networks.

Yet, the effect of fragmentation on the operations of the firm surveyed could itself serve as a case study for other organizations in the country, whether in the public, private or non-profit sectors, to evaluate their staff’s social and professional networks. It would potentially raise pertinent questions for further research such as: What is the impact of nationality-based fragmentation on employees’ productivity? Do organizations provide equal opportunities for professional advancement to Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis alike? Do differing levels of integration with the local population affect expatriates’ choice to invest in the country?

Additionally, given the dearth of research into the social and professional lives of expatriates and their interactions with citizens in Kuwait, and the Arabian Gulf more broadly it would also support existing literature on social fragmentation in the country and provide a baseline to begin the identification of specific fault lines of division (e.g. Arab v. non-Arab, European v. non-European), their social and economic impact, and policy changes (within the private sector and the government) needed to remedy any adverse consequences.  At a personal level, if I am able to successfully implement this network analysis, I would like to complement it by interviewing surveyed employees to present a more nuanced view of the subject as part of my capstone next year.
  • Al-Nakib, Farah. 2016. Kuwait Transformed: A history of oil and urban life. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
  • Chiu, Ya-Ping, Melien Wu, Wen-Long Zhuang and Ying-Yu Hsu. 2009. “Influences on expatriate   social networks in China.” The International Journal of Human Resource Management 20.4: 790-809. Accessed October 16, 2016. doi: 10.1080/09585190902770703.
  • Cross, Robert L., and Andrew Parker. 2004. The hidden power of social networks: Understanding how work really gets done in organizations. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press.
  • Harvey, William S. 2008, “The social networks of British and Indian expatriate scientists in         Boston.” Geoforum 39: 1756–1765. Accessed October 16, 2016. doi: 1       0.1016/j.geoforum.2008.06.006.
  • Longva, Anh Nga. 1997. Walls built on sand: Migration, exclusion, and society in Kuwait.             Boulder, Colo: WestviewPress.
  • Shen, Yan and Kathy E. Kram. 2011. “Expatriates’ developmental networks: network diversity,    base, and support functions.” Career Development International 36.6: 528-552.    Accessed October 16, 2016. doi: 1 0.1108/13620431111178317.


Christopher Tunnard said...

You know how I feel about this from our several discussions. You've done a great job of laying it out; now there's nothing for it but to talk to candidate companies to try it out on when you go beck to Kuwait at year-end.

Before you do, you should distill this down to a one-pager that you can give to the candidates. Be sure to include the benefits of doing an SNA. Cross goes into this in some detail in Appendix A of his book.

Batul K. Sadliwala said...

Thanks Prof. T! Now it's on to the less tricky but more frustrating part.