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Want to Bring Diversity in? Rethink Your Hiring Practices Beyond Culture Fit

Jun 26, 2023
Page showing the words skills, experience, and culture fit. Culture fit is circled with a red coloring pencil, also depicted in  the picture.


In this era of economic globalization and swift demographic changes, many companies are taking steps to achieve workforce diversity. In other words, they want their workforce to resemble the communities they serve.

Employing culturally and socially diverse workers makes good business sense since it will, inevitably, lead to increased benefits for the company.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) researchers and practitioners alike agree that workforce diversity can increase productivity and competitive advantages for the company, and even increase the company’s reputation.

However, despite all the good intentions, time, energy, and resources spent towards bringing diversity in, many companies are still failing -- possibly because many spend their time hiring for personality and not talent. In other words, they are hiring for culture fit.


What Does Hiring for Culture Fit Mean?

Hiring for culture fit refers to the practice of evaluating job candidates based on how well they align with the existing culture, values, and norms of an organization.

It involves assessing whether a candidate's attitudes, behaviors, and work style match the company's established cultural expectations. The underlying idea is to hire individuals who can seamlessly integrate into the existing team and contribute positively to the organizational culture.

Companies that prioritize culture fit often seek candidates who share similar beliefs, values, and attitudes with the current employees. This can include factors such as communication style, work ethic, problem-solving approach, teamwork, and alignment with the company's mission and core values.

The goal is to foster a cohesive and harmonious work environment where employees can collaborate effectively and share a sense of purpose.


The Downside of Culture Fit

While hiring for culture fit can have certain benefits, it can also lead to several problems for companies. Here are some potential issues associated with the strategy of hiring for culture fit:

  1.   Lack of diversity. Emphasizing culture fit in hiring can inadvertently lead to a lack of diversity within the organization. If candidates are primarily evaluated based on their similarity to existing employees, it can result in a homogeneous workforce that lacks diversity in perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. This will limit creativity, innovation, and overall organizational growth.
  2. Reinforcement of bias. Hiring for culture fit may reinforce unconscious biases and perpetuate existing inequalities within the organization. Hiring managers might favor candidates who resemble the dominant culture or share similar interests, leading to discriminatory practices. This can result in a lack of equal opportunities for underrepresented groups and hinder the organization’s DEI efforts.
  3. Limited innovation and creativity. Homogeneous cultures often discourage dissenting opinions and alternative viewpoints. By focusing solely on cultural fit, companies may unintentionally stifle diversity of thought and limit innovation. A diverse workforce, on the other hand, brings a range of perspectives and ideas that can foster creativity and drive positive change within the organization.
  4.  Groupthink and lack of critical thinking. Hiring for culture fit can contribute to the development of groupthink within a company. When everyone thinks similarly and avoids challenging the status quo, critical thinking and independent thought can suffer. This can hinder problem-solving abilities and lead to a lack of adaptability in a rapidly changing business landscape.
  5.  Missed opportunities for growth. Prioritizing culture fit can cause organizations to overlook candidates who possess valuable skills and experiences that could contribute to the company's growth. By focusing solely on cultural alignment, companies may miss out on diverse talents, fresh perspectives, and new ideas that could propel the organization forward.
  6. Employee dissatisfaction and turnover. While hiring for culture fit may result in cohesive teams, it can also lead to high employee turnover if individuals feel marginalized or stifled within the existing culture. Employees who do not fit a certain mold may struggle to find their place within the organization, leading to decreased job satisfaction and increased attrition rates.


What is the solution? Instead of looking for candidates who fit into your “organizational box,” shift the approach and, instead, look for candidates who can bring something unique to the team.

In other words, hire for culture add and not culture fit. This approach involves looking for candidates who bring unique perspectives and skills that complement the existing culture, and foster diversity and inclusivity while maintaining a cohesive work environment.


The Advantages of a Culture Add Approach to Hiring

Hiring for culture add, as opposed to culture fit, offers several advantages for organizations. Here are some key benefits:

  1. Enhanced diversity and inclusion. Hiring for culture add prioritizes diversity and inclusion by seeking candidates with unique perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds. This approach promotes a more heterogeneous workforce and breaks away from the limitations of a homogenous culture. It fosters a sense of belonging for individuals from underrepresented groups and creates an environment where diversity is celebrated and valued.
  2. Increased innovation and creativity. A diverse workforce brings a variety of perspectives, ideas, and approaches to problem-solving. By hiring for culture add, organizations invite fresh insights and innovative thinking into their teams. Different viewpoints and experiences can challenge the status quo, spark creativity, and lead to more innovative solutions.
  3.  Broader skill sets and expertise. Hiring for culture add allows organizations to tap into a wider pool of talent and expertise. By valuing skills, knowledge, and experiences that complement the existing culture, companies can bring in individuals with unique abilities that may not have been previously considered. This expands the organization's capabilities and enables them to tackle new challenges and opportunities.
  4. Expanded market reach and customer understanding. A diverse workforce can better understand and serve a diverse customer base. By hiring individuals from different backgrounds, organizations gain insights into various markets, cultural nuances, and customer needs. This can help them build stronger relationships with customers, tailor products or services to specific demographics, and foster a more inclusive brand image.


Needless to say, hiring for culture add promotes diversity, innovation, adaptability, and employee satisfaction, which can contribute to long-term success and a thriving organizational culture.

It is time for companies to ban “culture fit” as a hiring strategy so they can look, instead, for "culture add" in candidates. Culture add means candidates are brought in to help shape the culture of the organization, rather than to “fit” into it.

Many companies looking to hire diverse talent use quotas to ensure it gets done. However, this is just one side of the same coin. The goal should be to bring diverse talent in and create the conditions so they will want to stay. This is only possible if companies create truly inclusive environments where all employees feel valued, and their differences affirmed.


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