Creating a Work Culture That Celebrates Differences

February 21, 2023

Breneil Malcolm

M.Ed. in Higher Education

Illustration of icons of people melding together

Ever feel like you’re not on the same page as your workplace? Many employees put on facades of conformity or false representations at work to give the impression that they’re aligned with their organization’s core values. Fear of the consequences of expressing their real ideologies keeps them from sharing thoughts that may challenge organizational norms.

The term “facade of conformity” was originally coined by Patricia Faison Hewlin after she observed employee behavioral changes that complied with organizational culture as a strategy to navigate professional environments. Research identified this experience as particularly common among minority groups because these individuals often found themselves conforming to majority practices. This is expected, to some extent, but the challenge arises when individuals feel they must give up too much of themselves in exchange for a collective organizational identity.

Value-driven culture is very important in establishing an organization’s footprint. It’s key to maintain alignment with mission, vision, core values and, ultimately, public presence. For example, if a school is known for its culture of athleticism, its representatives likely embody and demonstrate core attributes such as persistence, competitiveness, grit and resilience. Further, these values may spread throughout the school’s population, but it probably isn’t uniform. The way Jane demonstrates persistence or resilience may not look the same as how Joe does. Jane may be a bodybuilder and Joe a sprinter. Both are athletes – competitive, persistent, gritty and resilient – but both demonstrate these traits differently because they are different people. Yet, objectively, these differences do not detract from the school’s overall mission, vision and core values.

How do leaders create a well-defined structure that truly encourages and embraces diverse, individual value systems? Through intentionally cultivating a climate that celebrates differences and recognizes that we each bring different life stories and experiences to our professional spaces. It’s the fostering of a culture that embraces the expansiveness of a concept such as diversity that lends itself to preventing facades of conformity.

Leaders sometimes get caught going through the motions to maintain culture and norms, which is achieved at the expense of individuality. Strict customs stemming from traditional leadership with no consideration of output and overall organizational strategic goals often hinder true appreciation of diversity. Such norms ultimately influence how employees feel and perceive their working conditions, which then positively or negatively impacts team morale, satisfaction and dynamics. Research on the importance of working conditions, which includes psychological and social dimensions, and its impact on individual and team efficiency is well-documented. The efficient output of a team is hinged on each member’s subjective perceptions of morale and health in their environments, and these differences ought to be celebrated and invited to cultivate a diverse and healthy workplace.

Become a more effective leader of diverse teams. Explore American College of Education’s fully online programs in leadership.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Breneil Malcolm
Breneil Malcolm, M.Ed. in Higher Education

Breneil Malcolm graduated from ACE with an M.Ed. in Higher Education, with a focus of study in Leadership. They are currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Learning, Design and Technology with Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at The Pennsylvania State University. Their research interests focus on diversity, equity and inclusion through the interdisciplinary frameworks of pedagogical, psychological and critical theories.

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