Going beyond recent studies emphasizing the 'successful' nature of ethnic minorities’ agency, this qualitative study offers an in-depth analysis of the tensions and contradictions inherent to ethnic minority employees’ agency. To conceptualize agency, we draw on the resistance literature and adopt the notion of struggle, which stresses the dynamic and often contradictory interplay between power and resistance in everyday experiences and actions. Based on 26 in-depth interviews with ethnic minority professionals, our study highlights three main agentic strategies individuals use in relation to discourses of ethnicity: rejecting, redefining and adopting discursively
available subject positions. Yet, these strategies are characterized by inherent tensions and contradictions, as all three involve both resistance and compliance, simultaneously challenging and reproducing discourses of ethnicity and relations of power. Our study further suggests that the tensions and contradictions inherent to ethnic minority employees’ agency can be linked to
individuals’ involvement in struggles on three interconnected plateaux: the plateaux of identity,
career and social change. Tensions arise as struggles on these plateaux come into conflict, forcing individuals to make important trade-offs. Finally, our study contributes to the resistance literature, reinterpreting the current debate on the prevalence of ‘banal’ forms of resistance as linked to its tendency to study (ethnic) majority individuals who have the privilege of focusing their agentic
strategies on the plateau of identity.