Why cultural-fit hiring is the enemy of diversity
Monday, July 29, 2019
A study by Cubix International of 55 organizations, including Ikea, found that 9 out of 10 recruiters passed over applicants that were not a “cultural fit.”
Hiring for “cultural fit” has become somewhat of a trend and buzzword. It usually applies to values, visions, norms and the way a company does business.
Some people have told me that hiring for “cultural fit,” as opposed to just skills, is a way of ensuring that the new hire gets along with everyone and be a “team player.” I’ve also been told that it is a way of increasing diversity since you’re not just hiring based on degrees and grades.
But what if this is part-fallacy? In fact, hiring for culture fit can be the “anti-diversity.”
A client was recruiting an HR director. He and the Chief Diversity Officer had posted far and wide to ensure that they had a diverse group of candidates. “We are not going to be concerned about the candidates’ grades or whether they went to the same Ivy League Schools that we did. We’re looking for someone who will help us with a diversity and inclusion strategy and shares the company values.”
The CEO and Chief Human Resource Director were both white, heterosexual and under 40, as was their outside recruiter. After much fanfare, they made their decision based on the best “cultural fit.”
Oddly enough, the person they hired was also a heterosexual white man under 40. And although he didn’t go to an Ivy League school, he had graduated from the West Coast equivalent.
They hired him because they knew he would fit in with the rest of the organization, they both felt comfortable and connected with him and just knew it would work out. He was the best “cultural fit.” But…ultimately, he wasn’t the best candidate and was gone in six months.
The idea of a “cultural fit” can sound good when you say you’re not hiring because of background, school, etc. But we all have biases, and most people’s default is to hire people with whom they are most comfortable.
Not always, but most of the time, this means people who are just like them. Conversation flows, similar interests outside of work, and very similar lexicon without having to explain nuances and meanings.
Research by Professor Lauren Rivera from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management found that interviewers often look for potential friends rather than those with the best skills.
If your culture means everyone is the same, with the same way of thinking, acting and even dressing, your idea of cultural fit will be the same unless you expand your culture and definition of cultural fit.
This results in some leaders in organizations wondering why they lack diversity in hiring (no one gets past the interview if they make it that far) and why they have retention problems with people who don’t fit the mold (they are not welcomed, and are made to feel uncomfortable for not being like the company “norm”).
What can you do?
Real change needs to be in the mindset and culture of the organization, measuring reviewing and flushing out opportunities for systemic bias and discrimination and continuously taking next steps. The whole senior leadership team needs to be involved.
Here are five steps in the journey to support diversity, equity and inclusion in hiring that will lead to immeasurable future success.
1. Examine your culture and the people in it.
Does everyone look the same? Who is not represented? Who is missing? Are you a bunch of “tech bros” who think alike?
2. Find new ways to recruit, interview and develop relationships in advance of need with people different than your organization’s norm.
3. Research and utilize new technologies being used to reduce bias in hiring.
4. Change your culture, change recruiters and stop using the term culture fit to mean your clones.
5. Hire the “idea” candidate and not the “ideal” candidate who looks like you.
And finally, you’ll have to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable around new people who are different than you, be open to new ways of problem-solving, and confront your old biases and resistance to change. When you do, you’ll be a better leader, a better person and better able to serve your employees and customers.
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