Working Papers

Fitting In or Standing Out? The Tradeoffs of Structural and Cultural Embeddedness


A recurring theme in sociological research is the tradeoff between fitting in and standing out. Prior work examining this tension has tended to take either a network structural or a cultural perspective. We instead fuse these two traditions to develop a theory of how structural and cultural embeddedness jointly relate to individual attainment within organizations. Given that organizational culture is hard to observe, we develop a novel approach to assessing individuals’ cultural fit with their colleagues in an organization based on the language expressed in internal email communications. Drawing on a unique data set that includes a corpus of 10.25 million email messages exchanged over five years among 601 employees in a high-technology firm, we find that network constraint impedes, while cultural fit promotes, individual attainment. More importantly, we find evidence of a tradeoff between the two forms of embeddedness: cultural fit benefits individuals with low network constraint (i.e., brokers), while network constraint promotes attainment for those with low cultural fit.