Why Hiring for Culture Fit is a Problem for Cultural Diversity

For a good portion of the 2010s, "culture fit" was seen as a progressive, forward-thinking hiring policy, as pioneered by Silicon Valley technology companies. But is it actually beneficial to team morale, and how does it impact diversity?

When interviewing prospective employees, employers are often trying to determine if the potential new recruit is going to be a good “cultural fit”. Will someone who’s laidback be able to keep up with the fierce pace of the organization? Will an introvert enjoy the buzzy company which prides itself on collaboration? It’s important to consider whether each candidate is suited to the working environment.

However, there’s a risk that in looking for that cultural fit, organizations end up with just one type of person—a mould of those that came before, and those that are in charge of hiring. Having a homogenous workforce is a clear problem. Without diversity, employees who don’t fit that mould can feel ostracized, and teams will frequently lack the diversity of opinion necessary for creative innovation.

People from different backgrounds and cultures, of different ages and sexes, each bring something to the workforce. An employee with thirty years’ experience may have the calm and collected attitude needed in times of panic, while the intern could have a fresh perspective for finding the next game-changing idea. By being proactive in creating a workforce with a range of backgrounds, life experiences, languages and knowledge of other cultures’ ways of working, then you’ll have a great competitive advantage.

The goal is to create a “culturally competent” organization: one that’s conscious of different groups, behaviors and attitudes, and adapts to suit any differences. Not only will that help to win the top talent and improve employee satisfaction, but McKinsey found that 35% of ethnically-diverse companies and 15% of gender-diverse companies are more likely to have financial returns than their national industry median.

Set the Right Message From the Word “Go” 

When considering whether your approach is limiting cultural diversity, it’s important to start where any prospective candidate would: with the job description.

Even with the best intentions, job descriptions can still exclude entire demographics. Language is gendered, so scrap any phrases that evoke a male or female culture. Say goodbye to “supportive” and “collaborative” if you don’t want to deter men, and remove references to “ninjas” and “competitiveness” to encourage female applications.

It’s also important to consider the job specifications themselves, and whether each of the “requirements” is truly necessary. In an internal report, Hewlett Packard found that men will apply for a job when they meet 60% of the qualifications, whereas women will only send over their CV when they meet 100% of the prerequisites.

Check any wording around “X years’ experience”, and think about why that number of years is important to the role. By going too high, you’ll potentially scare away a generation of applicants. It can open you up to lawsuits too—specifying years of experience essentially specifies age, which is a protected characteristic and something you can’t discriminate against. Say “proven experience in X” instead.

Ingrain Diversity Company-wide

When it comes to life at your workplace, encouraging people to engage more with each other can work wonders. Introduce a monthly company lunch, co-working spaces, and frequent socials—even if those necessarily take place online. Make a conscious effort to create diverse teams too. As people get to know each other, these will develop more organically.

If you feel like your company might need some extra work when it comes to inclusivity and diversity, set up talks or workshops on different cultures. If possible, involve colleagues from a range of backgrounds to help develop and deliver these so it’s not an alienating, top-down initiative.

As we move forward into the new world of work, it’s also important to consider flexible working hours, as well as working from home options. That way, a parent can easily adapt to the school run, or someone who is trying to develop a new skill can take an after-work class. Not every workplace can adopt remote working, but providing context on the reasons why will pay dividends with your employees.

Another helpful approach is adopting a “business-as-usual” approach to any culturally-based practical arrangements. For example, your organization may let employees who observe Ramadan change their hours. This should be presented to the team as simply what happens—if you do it well enough, it shouldn’t even need to be presented.

In the end, there’s nothing like a bit of informality to get people really talking. Celebrate different festivals together—fun isn’t just for Christmas in a diverse workplace!

When it’s Time to Say Goodbye

With a culture like this, hopefully your employees won’t want to leave anytime soon. But if it is time for an employee to go, make sure to conduct an exit interview. Ask what they’d improve around company culture and find out any sources of tension that may have occurred if they felt excluded at any stage.

Even better than that, though, is asking your employees what they think before they decided to leave. By taking regular pulse surveys, you’ll have a far better sense of general employee engagement and sentiment, ensuring you’re working on the right things internally.

If creating or maintaining a diverse team sounds daunting, remember this: there are more similarities than differences between your colleagues. After all, your team all chose to work in the same organization. That’s definitely something to build on.

More Reading