By Dr. Nika White; President and CEO, Nika White Consulting, Best Selling Author of “The Intentional Inclusionist®” and “Next-Level Inclusionist: Transform Your Work and Yourself for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Success”
“If everyone jumped off a cliff would you jump too?” This priceless advice our parents gave us about staying committed to what is right and authentically true to ourselves somehow gets lost in workplace culture. If an organization conditions its employees to believe success is only capable by behaving and thinking like the majority dominant culture, diversity, equity, and inclusion are diminished. Organizations must work hard to undo this “culture of conformity.”
What is this “culture of conformity?”
Conformity is action per some specified standard or authority. Examples of conformity in today’s workplace look like: working hours expectations, dress codes, compensation guidelines, code of ethics, and timely communication. Such performance standards are essential to core values that determine hiring decisions and help to shape culture. They build continuity, avoid misunderstandings, and reduce legal issues.
Like many words, “conformity” can take on positive and negative connotations. Conformity can also be defined as “yielding to group pressures.” How easily we forget that precious advice our parents once gave us when we stop taking a skeptical point of view and disengage our personal value system to fit in or be perceived as “correct” by the majority.
The dangers of a conformist culture
When companies explicitly define standards or implicitly embed them in the culture, there are implications to an environment’s inclusivity that may be overlooked. More so, it is about how organizations arrive at those decisions, which often occurs in the absence of the consideration of the potential to compromise inclusion. Expecting people to conform to the mainstream, dominant culture is different from laying out performance expectations and company values that employees need to adhere to. Conformity can diminish the value and benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion:
It is important for organizations that wish to be exemplary in their efforts to foster a culture of authenticity and belonging to be aware of these implications. Organizations should exercise intentionality to avoid organizational values and standards from unintentionally jeopardizing employees’ psychological safety of showing up authentically.
How to reverse a culture of conformity
Organizations committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion cannot take a half-hearted approach. Norms function to provide order and predictability to workplaces, but they can also create unsafe environments.
When transforming workplace culture, hard truths must be addressed. “We’ve always done it this way” is no longer an acceptable answer when radical change is the goal.
What are you, your team, your leadership, and your organization doing to ensure the dangers of culture conformity are addressed?