Article 3

2023-03-30 Zenia Simonella

Political Orientation and Regional Differences: Expanding the Viewpoint, Dialoging with the Context

Two recent episodes remind us that the causes of discrimination are not limited to the categories we concentrate the most on in today’s debate. The approach to diversity management, therefore, must be communicative and “elastic.” Some reflections on this theme.


In this contribution I would like to report on two episodes recently reported to me and their implications for an approach to diversity management in a continuously evolving social context.


Episode 1. In a well-known multinational corporation, during a meeting, it is pointed out to an employee that her Southern Italian accent and tendency to gesticulate could be a reason for exclusion or discrimination. The comment is not appreciated and the person “reports” their colleague to the management.


Episode 2. In a mid-sized Italian business, the head of the company is an open supporter of the League. The employees from Southern Italy, especially those with a different political orientation, and women in particular, are subject to forms of daily micro-aggression. One of them suffers a burnout.


Some observations:


  • The causes of discrimination are not limited to the categories most commonly referenced (gender, age, ethnicity, etc.) when we speak of diversity management. This label, in fact, is elastic and permeable, ready to include new and old forms of discrimination. On this blog we have repeatedly recalled this point, and in our book “L’organizzazione inclusiva we strongly emphasized it, dedicating a chapter to little discussed categories of diversity management. The approach must therefore be to have a “dialogue” and to always take into account the context to which it applies. 


  • Discrimination based on political orientation is a significant theme, cited at the European level,[1] but little discussed as regards discrimination in the workplace. From a study caried out in 2012 by what was then the Diversity Management Lab of Sda Bocconi, we know that political orientation is a cause of indirect discrimination (i.e. observed regarding other colleagues) according to 38% of those interviewed, and of direct discrimination (regarding the same person) for approximately 33%.[2] 


  • However, discrimination based on regional diversity (not necessary North versus South), seems to me to be completely ignored by diversity management studies in Italy, despite our history of immigration and its consequences for North-South relations.


  • Discrimination can accumulate and amplify stigma when it involves aspects of identity that, in a specific context, have less status simultaneously: in the second episode cited above, regional differences, political orientation and gender different from that of the boss (or the dominant group) produce a negative combination, subjecting the individual to so-called minority stress.[3]


  • Visible differences, that can put someone in a disadvantageous condition, can be strengthened and accentuated to stress the importance of that characteristic for the individual’s identity, adopting a so-called “reveal strategy”; or they can be neutralized, adopting a so-called “coverage strategy,”[4] i.e. modifying some characteristics of identity to be accepted by the dominant group. For example, we know that Margaret Thatcher practiced lowering her tone of voice and neutralizing her accent. And Henry Kissinger, of Jewish-German origin, became “more American than the Americans.”[5] 

In the case of the protagonists of the two episodes above, we probably see the first type. 


  • A final aspect should be pointed out in regard to the reaction of the protagonist in the first case. In response to their colleague’s observation, the person reacted negatively, reporting them. This act can be considered an indicator of minority stress of the person and/or can hide other tensions or conflicts,[6] that stratify or combine with other problems, contributing to “polluting” an organization’s climate. 


[2] Basaglia, S. Cuomo, S. Simonella, Z. (2022) L’organizzazione inclusiva. Egea, Milan, p. 212.

[3] Meyer, Ilan H. “Minority Stress and Mental Health in Gay Men.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 36, no. 1 (1995): 38–56. 

[4] Clair, J., Beatty, J., & Maclean, T. (2005). Out of sight but not out of mind: Managing invisible social identities in the workplace. Academy of Management Review, 30(1), 78–95.

[6] On the issue of conflicts, see Basaglia (2021) La gestione dei conflitti è la grande sfida. Economia & Management, 4.  


Photo iStock / wildpixel

iStock / wildpixel