I have written many articles on this platform and in many of them I have mentioned how I have struggled to find role models in the workplace as I never felt like I fit the standard corporate mold. I have also made a video on this topic, which you see here: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:7096728278752714752/
I am not an ex-consultant who wears suits everyday at work and I don’t want to pretend to be either. I have quicks and ways that don’t seem typical for the standard large multinational environment, especially for women. For those of you who might not know me personally, here are some (among so many) where I feel that I stand out: I graduated university at three months shy of being 30 years old, before studying business, I studied film, I am hyper friendly and hyper personal with everyone regardless of their role or mine, I speak openly about my vulnerabilities, I queer and very open about my identity, I don’t connect well with my femininity but I am not masculine, I have a lot of anxiety, I never wear makeup, I wear the same black outfit almost everyday (unbranded black t-shirt, unbranded black blazer, unbranded black jeans and sneakers), I don’t feel comfortable dressing up in anyway, it’s not always easy for me to speak up spontaneously in meetings as I overthink most things including what to say… and so much more. Additionally, I am a firm believer that everyone should be able to be their true selves at work. For this reason, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about how I best balance my individuality while I conform (where and when needed) in the workplace. As I have wrapped my head around this topic, I’d like to share my thoughts on this matter.
What is corporate conformity?
Corporate conformity refers to employees conforming to the established norms, rules (written and unwritten) and behaviors expected within a workplace or corporate environment. It means to fit into the corporate culture and adopt standard ways of being to fit within the organization. While conformity is necessary to create a coherent and cohesive workplace and culture, excessive norms and requirements can be detrimental to companies.
Corporate conformity has both positive and negative impacts on employees. On the positive side, conformity can help:
Create a sense of belonging and it enables the organization to have a culture and enables employees to feel they are part of a unit working towards shared goals
Clear expectations as employees know what is expected of them
Decrease conflicts as conformity promotes a harmonious work environment
Career advancement as conforming to the organization’s norms and values can be perceived favorably by managers and leaders, which in turn can lead to career advancement.
Other positive aspects are team cohesion, professionalism, compliance, organizational stability, reduced confusion, etc.
On the negative side, corporate conformity can impact employees and organizations as follows:
Holding back on individuality: too much conformity might discourage employees from being themselves at work including sharing ideas and opinions
Reduced diversity and inclusion
Reduced or stagnating innovation
Reduced job satisfaction and disengaged employees
Increased levels of stress and anxiety
Reduced critical thinking
Higher employee turnover
In short, finding the right balance between corporate conformity and individuality is critical in all workplaces to get the best of both worlds. By doing so we can create an environment that fosters trust, open communication, innovation and inclusion.
How do I balance my individuality in a corporate environment?
Personally, I actively work hard to find the best balance between the corporate conformity of the working environment I work in and my individuality. It’s not a one off activity but an ongoing process I keep optimizing and changing based on how I grow and the company changes. To do so, I do the following:
I know my core values and core beliefs. These are fundamental principles I won’t compromise on.
I observe and understand the corporate culture of the company I work for and observe it change over time as all culture shifts in time. I also try to play an active role in shaping the culture of the organization I work for so that it best matches my values and beliefs.
I choose my battles: not everything should be fought for! It’s important to choose wisely and when it’s critical to conform or critical to stand for what I believe in.
I embrace my uniqueness, my quirks, my strengths and weaknesses. Not only do I embrace them but I put them on display to show that I am human and that I am willing to be my true self at work.
I challenge others to be themselves at work and let their true colors shine.
I take part in different company initiatives that can have a positive impact on the culture and the creation of a safe space for everyone
I advocate for inclusion
I mentor others to help others find their space and their ways in the corporate world
In short, balancing my individuality within the confinement of corporate conformity is an ongoing activity I do at work daily. It’s not a magic recipe nor a one size fits all solution. When that is said, I believe it’s critical that we all seek to find such a balance so that we ensure we all work in companies that are diverse and inclusive so all of us can thrive at work and feel comfortable to be who we are everyday at the office.