A: Adapting to a culture you’re not comfortable with may be an important part of your success. Don’t you want to get into a leadership position where you have the power to create some change? Once you get to that senior leadership role, you can then start to make a difference. You can start to change the culture.
For example, you can chair a major search committee where your values and sensibilities will blend with your institution’s values and sensibilities. Hiring candidates who reflect your values is a great start towards creating the change you want to see. It’s only going to happen when women, and men, who believe in having a truly inclusive culture, use their powers to create that change. It can’t happen if you stand at the sidelines. I feel really passionate about this.
So, yes, you have to adapt to the norms.
I’ll give you a personal example. I lived my entire life, mostly in the mid-Atlantic and northeast, just outside of or in major urban centers. I had to adapt when I moved to Denver, Colorado. I had to adapt when I worked at the University of Denver as opposed to George Washington University. It’s not that those universities are distinctively different from a descriptive way, but how people operate in Washington, D.C. and how people operate in Denver, Colorado is very, very different.
I’ve been at the University of Denver now for seven years. You bet I adapted. I joke around about how I have to lower my voice, I have to not talk as quickly and when I drive down the highway, I don’t beep my horn the way that I do when I’m going down the New Jersey Turnpike. Those are cultural attributes of region and style to which one must adapt.
If you’re going to be a successful leader, you read the landscape, you understand the culture and you do adapt but you do it in a way that’s yours.
Any of us who are navigating these systems would have to know how to read the tea leaves. We can’t just bluster in and expect people to just love us for who we are if we’re just bumping up against the culture and creating an uncomfortable situation. But we also have to be authentic. So it takes a lot of work.