The biggest need of any individual is to feel belonged. The necessity to ‘fit in’ comes out of this belongingness game that we continuously play. We keep going in and out of our ‘comfort zone’ to be in balance and in sync with others. Young kids start picking up similar habits to be on the same page with friends that they like very early on. We as adults, pick up mannerisms and language, and work hard to lose one’s identity in various situations, in order to be accepted by the majority. The pressure to be one like the others is high and usually ignored. We conform where necessary and are compliant when required.

Assimilating ourselves to others needs or ‘Assimilation Bias’ is the need to camouflage oneself so that we no longer are distinct. It plays out in our life long before we even realise that we are playing it out. I have often come across introverted individuals trying to push the mould by working on their presence by showcasing extroverted energy and mannerisms. Often, the change has helped them get the next role but most of the time it has stretched them to be what they aren’t. Recently I met a senior women leader in a sales organization and she confessed that she doesn’t hire women in her team, even though she wants to, because she is fearful that she will be branded as pro-woman and not serious with her team. We tend to put everyone on the same plane and demand similar results, forgetting that each one of us is unique.

But we all still want to Assimilate. Why?

To fulfil a larger need often not mentioned openly, but culturally weaved in our life. Instinct tells us how to behave and ‘fit in’ based on some subtle messages and cues in order to be successful. We may debate as to what’s wrong in fitting with the dominant culture? But isn’t that the dichotomy of diversity and inclusion. We hire for difference but manage for similarities. Batch after batch people are bought in, and very nicely given ‘culture fit’ trainings to make everyone similar. Unfortunately missing the larger picture, losing our creativity, space for innovative thoughts, products and practices.

Assimilating ourselves is also a huge drain on our energies. We end up being what we are not, and that can be hugely tiring. We don’t get our best selves to work and get disengaged at the workplace. Ironically members of the dominant culture most of the time are ‘blind’ and do not realise when others are adjusting for them. They are only likely to notice when someone else doesn’t conform to their norm, or they find themselves in the minority.

In my experience in delivering more than hundreds of ‘Unconscious Bias’ facilitated conversations, it’s almost everywhere that the participants have very hesitatingly admitted to the fact of ‘fitting in’ as a way to be successful in their roles and environment.

But if we as individuals start:

  • Appreciating others for what they are
  • Being more patient in understanding other’s perspectives and thoughts
  • To pause before jumping into stereotypical conclusions

Then we will be able to move our mental models about groups and individuals, that we might have assimilated as part of our upbringing. We will then be able to stretch the larger organizational box to get everyone to ‘fit in’.


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Rashmi Mandloi

Rashmi Mandloi leads diversity & inclusion for Biz Divas in South Asia. She is recognized as a thought leader on diversity matters and inclusive leadership across the Indian subcontinent. She looks through the world with an eye on understanding the nuances of bias, beliefs and thoughts to enable change and Inclusion.

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