As much as companies like to tout diversity, the definitive rule of getting ahead at work is to be likable—to follow the unwritten set of norms and adhere to your company’s culture. That is, you must fit and mix well with the rest of the “gang.”
As I’ve written before, likeability is a significant predictor of success. Well-liked people, especially those who work well with others, will advance. Those who aren’t very likable don’t usually get as far. If your company is conservative, you should be conservative. If the leadership is aggressive, snappy, and rule-bending, be the same. It’s better to be “one of them” to progress your career and endear yourself to your colleagues and higher-ups.
Every grouping of people, whatever the institution, community, or population, has an unwritten set of norms. It’s true for nations, in social groups, sports teams, and businesses. Wherever people form a group, they organically form rules. They institutionalize ways of doing things, traditions, and unquestioned assumptions. Such norms give the group a sense of identity. It’s natural. It’s tribe mentality. We, humans, are social creatures, and this is how we foster a sense of belonging.
Per affinity bias, human nature is such that people instinctively associate other people with labels, relate, and play favorites. Groups establish the norms and embrace and propagate them. The resulting categorization not only resists differences but also initiates prejudice and favoritism.
In professional settings, most workplaces tend to hire similar people and encourage them to think and work in the same way. I’ve previously written,
Even if nearly all corporate mission statements extol the virtues of “valuing differences,” managers stifle individuality down in the trenches. They are less willing to be receptive to different viewpoints. They seek to mold their employees to conform to the existing culture of the workplace and to comply with the existing ways of doing things. Compliant, acquiescent employees who look the part are promoted in preference to exceptional, questioning employees who bring truly different perspectives to the table. The nail that sticks its head up indeed gets hammered down.
Defining, fostering, and defending a corporate culture often becomes an exercise in clarifying ‘this is who we are’ and ‘this is who we are not.’ It engenders a strong norm, which builds an even more significant incentive to get people to think alike, get on, and tolerate or repel incompatible people.
Idea for Impact: Culture is a Barrier to Diversity and Inclusion
Culture is the unlikely—if unintentional—barrier to true diversity. Culture has a pernicious effect on hiring. It gives people ample reason to favor and engage who they believe to be “the right people.”