This post on balancing hiring for cultural fit with diversity was originally published in October 2017. It was updated to reflect new information on hiring for cultural fit vs. cultural add in March 2022. “Cultural fit” has long been part of the criteria during the recruitment process. When evaluating candidates for culture fit, hiring teams are considering questions of compatibility. Will this person fit in with the current company culture? Will they mesh well with their team?
However in recent years, it’s become clear that hiring for cultural fit leaves lots of room for discrimination, and that negatively impacts diversity at your organization. That’s because companies’ definitions of “cultural fit” are highly subjective and it’s well-known that we’re biased toward similar people.Did you know that hiring for “cultural fit” can result in discrimination? See the latest from @ClearCompany on why #CultureAdd is a better #hiring goal:
“We tend to recruit people that are very similar to ourselves, or very similar to groups of people we already work with,” said Gemma Leigh Roberts, a UK-based organizational psychologist.
This tendency is both conscious and unconscious. That means it’s essential to remove interview and screening questions that are overly subjective. It’s also vital to develop an awareness of unconscious bias that favors similarities when hiring in order to hire for culture-add vs. culture-fit.
Let’s get into cultural fit, cultural add, and why companies that hire for culture-add are more successful.
“Recruiting people that always ‘fit’ the culture is really dangerous, especially from a diversity perspective.”
- Gemma Leigh Roberts, Organizational Psychologist
The Problem with “Cultural Fit”
Although culture fit has traditionally been a large part of the equation when it comes to hiring, there are many problems with this approach:
- Lots of companies hire for culture fit based on the culture they wish they had, which doesn’t always match up with reality.
- Individuals are not very good at evaluating job candidates without the help of structured interviews and unbiased assessments.
- There is no academic research showing that using culture-fit criteria results in better performance or job satisfaction for employees.
“When the majority of white-collar management roles are held by white men, the hiring practice of seeking “culture fit” can be a form of institutionalized racism and sexism that reproduces inequalities.”
What’s more, relying on culture fit when hiring perpetuates the status quo and harms underrepresented groups, barring them from opportunities to grow in their careers. Hiring for culture fit hurts candidates who are people of color, women, and older workers:
- 47% of Black technology professionals “strongly agree” that in order to grow professionally, they need to switch companies regularly, compared to only 28% of non-Black respondents. (Source)
- People with disabilities apply to 60% more jobs than non-disabled individuals. (Source)
- Only 15% of managers see candidates over age 45 as a “good cultural fit.” (Source)
It’s evident that culture-fit hiring is a barrier to building a diverse workforce. The good news is that human resources teams and hiring managers can learn about the value of culture-add hiring and remove culture fit from the recruiting and interviewing process.
What is Culture Add?
If culture fit refers to hiring candidates with shared traits and similar backgrounds as current employees, then culture add is the opposite. Hiring for culture add means bringing in perspective, experience, and ideas that aren’t a direct reflection of every other employee. A candidate who is a culture add can point out blind spots and expand the team’s horizons.
There is ample evidence showing that diversity is a huge benefit to business success:
- Diverse businesses are 1.7x more likely to be innovative leaders in their space.
- Companies outperform industry averages by 33% compared to less diverse organizations.
- High-performing organizations are 10x more likely to make diversity, equity, and inclusion an integral part of business strategy.
Culture-add hiring results in a more diverse workforce, which 76% of job seekers say is a top priority in their search. Diverse teams outperform less diverse teams in areas critical to business success. In addition to being more innovative, they have better sales outcomes, develop more new products, and are better at problem-solving and risk mitigation. Homogeneity can make employees who are not the majority feel pressure to “tone down who they are” to fit in with company culture.
How to Put Culture Add Over Culture Fit
Research from Josh Bersin found that a majority of high-performing organizations reinforce diversity, equity, and inclusion through the entire talent management process. As Bersin puts it, “Inclusion is the goal; diversity is the result.” Businesses that successfully measure inclusion outcome goals, like through an inclusion index, are 6.2x more likely to have highly diverse leaders. To add to company culture rather than reinforce a homogenous work environment, organizations should focus on ensuring their employees truly feel included rather than just trying to hit diversity hiring goals.According to @Josh_Bersin, “Inclusion is the goal; diversity is the result.” Work toward that goal by focusing on #CultureAdd over culture fit in #hiring. See more from @ClearCompany:
Using Culture Fit Right
[A less problematic example of 'culture fit' in use is]: "Our workplace is fast-paced and highly accountable. The ideal candidate feels comfortable delivering on tight timelines and engaging critically with peer feedback."
[A problematic example of 'culture fit' in use is]: "Our workplace is fast-paced and highly accountable — not a good fit for women."
- HR Dive
Organizations can remove the culture-fit standard by establishing a standard screening and interviewing process. That means getting rid of subjective questions so that interviewers don’t rely on whether or not they connect with candidates on a personal level. Instead of using “not a good cultural fit” as criteria to pass on a candidate, require HR and hiring managers to justify why the candidate is not equipped for the role.
“I think it’s really important to have search discipline, so that going out, we’ve agreed on the set of competencies that we’re hiring for and…aligning on those competencies instead of getting a ‘rough assessment’ of whether this person is ‘right for the role’ or is a ‘good culture fit,’” said Lilian Tham, Head of Executive Search at AirBnb.
That’s not to say that none of the elements of culture-fit hiring are useful. One place candidates and potential employers should certainly align are their values. Organizations that value diversity, inclusion, employee engagement, and professional development should ensure candidates’ values are similar. To gauge value alignment, hiring managers can start a conversation around the company’s values and how the potential employee has demonstrated those values in the past.
Hire for Innovation and Growth
Hiring for cultural fit vs. cultural add comes down to this: Do you want to build a corporate culture of innovative, engaged employees who feel like they belong at your company, or do you want to build a team of individuals whose experiences and backgrounds are similar? Do you want employees that challenge and teach one another, or a group with many shared hobbies, interests, and experiences? Do you want a team that breaks new ground or one that maintains the status quo?
If your organization is part of the 63% that will intentionally recruit a wider range of candidates in 2022, ClearCompany has the resources you need to get started. Download 5 Tips For Better Diversity Hiring for all this and more:
- Add diversity to your employer brand
- Source a more diverse pool of candidates
- Demonstrate a commitment to diversity from the inside out
- Collaborate and innovate for longevity