You may have heard this recruitment advice before. Hire for cultural fit. Skills and experience are important, but the most important is to hire a person who will fit well to the team. Someone you want to hang out with, get a beer, or be stuck with at the airport. All that makes sense until you consider the implications. The advice basically means to hire someone like you, with the same view of the world. The advice kills diversity, creativity, and innovation.
Hiring for cultural fit maintains the status quo in lack of diversity at organizations and works mainly for the majority group. The report, The Unequal Race for Good Jobs, from Georgetown University and JPMorgan Chase, shows the outsized gains in education and good jobs the white majority of the population has over people of color. The report describes good jobs as those that pay a minimum of $35,000 for workers between 25 and 44, and at least $45,000 for those older than 45. In 2016, in the United States, the median pay of a good job was $56,000 and $75,000 for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Caucasian workers, while being 69% of the working population, held 77% of good jobs.
By relying on the cultural fit that maintains the status quo and promotes the rule of the majority, you are robbing yourself of business opportunities, not to mention the moral dubiousness of such behavior. Research by the Center For Talent Innovation shows that innovation thrives in an environment where the leaders embrace difference and disruption and foster a speak-up culture. By encouraging different perspectives, they can better serve the whole market.
If you are translating cultural fit to “person like me who I like,” then stop. You are not doing anyone any favors, certainly not the person who doesn’t belong to the majority, or the organization itself. Because white men hold a majority of white-collar management jobs, cultural fit is often hidden institutionalized discrimination, racism, and sexism.
It is similar with referrals. It is widely accepted that referrals are the easiest way to get a job. Based on data from a Jobvite survey, while 7% of candidates come from referrals, they make up to 40% of new hires. They begin in their roles quicker, have higher job satisfaction, and stay with the company longer. All that is great. Unfortunately, it tells you nothing about productivity, creativity and innovation of the team, and the success of the business. It just tells you that when you select people who are similar to you, they will be happy. Who would have thought?
The problem with cultural fit is that it doesn’t consider the shared workplace values, but instead, it focuses on educational and cultural background, hobbies, and personal chemistry. Lauren A. Rivera investigated whether cultural similarities between employers and job candidates matter in hiring decisions. She concluded that hiring decisions are not only about skills but also about the cultural match. Employers preferred candidates who were culturally similar, had similar leisure pursuits, experiences, and self-presentation styles. Concerns about shared culture were often more important than concerns about skills or productivity.
You are not selecting a date. You are selecting a coworker. You need someone who has the same workplace values, is good at what they do, is a team player, who has a passion for the company’s mission. It doesn’t matter whether the candidate is a cultural fit. It is more important that they share the same core values as the organization. Yes, you may say that that is precisely what you mean by cultural fit, and you may mean it, but unconscious biases during the hiring process are not on your side. When you talk about cultural fit, most people will translate it into personal chemistry and hire people similar to them.
Do this instead
Stop focusing on cultural fit and consider cultural richness. Instead of hiring those similar to you, hire those whose values align with the company’s values, regardless of their cultural and educational background and lifestyle choices. If you value honesty and integrity, focus your interview questions on them rather than whether the candidate attended the same school as you or has similar hobbies.
When values drive your interview process, you will still hire the right people who will make great team players, but they won’t be all the same. You will have a more diverse team, more creativity, new ideas. You have broken the status quo and build a culturally rich organization.
What is your take on the topic? Do you believe cultural fit is important? How do you define it? How do you ensure you hire a diverse team? Would focus on values instead of cultural fit work? How do you remove biases from hiring?
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