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Balancing Authenticity and Conformity: A Guide for Leaders from Marginalized Groups

Over the course of my career, I've often found myself at a crossroads: torn between wanting to stay true to who I am as a person and feeling pressure to conform to the dominant organizational culture. This balancing act is one many of us know all too well and it has an impact on both our professional success and personal well-being.


Let's explore the nuances of this struggle, along with research and real-world insights, and actionable tips for navigating this delicate terrain.


Understanding the Dilemma


The tension that exists between authenticity and conformity is rooted in the inherent disparities of power dynamics and cultural norms. Research has consistently shown that individuals from marginalized groups face greater scrutiny and are often subject to bias and discrimination in the workplace. Because of this, it can sometimes feel easier to assimilate into the dominant culture in order to try to avoid those challenges and gain acceptance.


Every person's situation is unique, so it's important to choose actions that feel safe to you. Whether that's conforming, standing out, or somewhere in-between, you should always choose the path that works for you.


While it may provide more opportunities for professional success, conforming to the mainstream comes at a cost. Suppressing our authentic self can lead to feelings of dissonance, imposter syndrome, and a potential loss of connection with our culture and heritage. Research also suggests that embracing our identity can enhance creativity, innovation, and overall job satisfaction.


Suppressing our authentic self can lead to feelings of dissonance, imposter syndrome, and a loss of connection with our cultural heritage. Research also suggests that embracing our identity can enhance creativity, innovation, and overall job satisfaction.

Actionable Tips for Balancing Authenticity and Conformity


1. Know yourself: Take the time to reflect on your values, beliefs, culture, and heritage. Understanding who you are and what matters to you is the first step towards authenticity.


2. Assess the organizational culture: Familiarize yourself with the prevailing norms, values, and expectations within your workplace. Identify areas where your identity aligns with or diverges from the dominant culture.


3. Find allies and support networks: Seek out mentors, colleagues, or affinity groups who share your background or advocate for diversity and inclusion. These allies can provide valuable guidance and support as you navigate the challenges of authenticity and conformity.


4. Choose your battles: Recognize that not every aspect of your identity needs to be upfront in every situation. Decide which aspects are non-negotiable and where you can be more flexible in adapting to the organizational culture.


5. Lead by example: Embrace your authentic self and lead with integrity. Use your platform, privilege, and power to make space for others and amplify lesser-heard voices. By demonstrating authenticity and inclusivity, you can inspire others to do the same and foster a more inclusive workplace culture.


6. Advocate for change: Use your platform and influence to advocate for policies and practices that promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging within your organization. Be vocal about the importance of embracing diverse perspectives and creating space for authentic expression.


7. Practice self-compassion: Remember that navigating the complexities of authenticity and conformity is an ongoing journey. Be kind to yourself and celebrate the courage it takes to stay true to your identity in challenging circumstances.


Bringing your authentic self while navigating the demands of the organizational culture can help you thrive personally and contribute to a better workplace. This is why it's so important that leaders, both from marginalized and dominant groups, create a genuine culture of belonging that allows, protects, and rewards folks who show up in these ways.


If you're looking for support on this journey, having a coach in your corner can be helpful.




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