Hiring for “Cultural Fit”…or Unconscious Biases?

By The Intersect Group

We’ve been having some lively discussions in recent weeks here at The Intersect Group on diversity and inclusion in hiring. So much so – and so spirited have our talks been – that we thought it would be a good idea to bring this discussion to our blog every couple of weeks. 

We also thought we’d start this series off discussing how hiring for cultural fit, which arguably is important, could become an “acceptable” excuse for perpetuating unconscious biases.  

We’re human: we like to be around people like us 

It’s instinctive, this preference to be around people similar to ourselves. After all, homogeneity is “safe.” We naturally respond better and enjoy the company of people with experiences and backgrounds like our own.  

And while “hiring people you’d like to have a beer with,” sounds harmless, it’s not: it can reinforce hiring to unconscious bias

A 2019 analysis of 22 years of worldwide data found that while we’re prone to react poorly at first to “threats of homogeneity”, as time goes on and we interact more and more with people not like us, these “negative effects are compensated… by the beneficial effects of intergroup contact.”  

In plain English: the more we hang out with “others,” the more we come to like them! 

The benefits of hiring for diversity and inclusion are many 

So many: 

  • If you don’t even try to hire folks different than your norm, you’ll miss out on an incredible amount of talent and skills. 
  • Having employees from different backgrounds and cultures is a great way to foster creativity and innovation. 
  • Greater employee retention: people tend to stick around when they feel accepted and respected for their viewpoints and experiences/skills. 
  • You’ll find that your workplace no doubt becomes a happier and more productive place.  
  • Your company brand will get a positive – and important – boost, making it easier to attract top talent. 

Some (current) disappointing facts regarding diversity and inclusion in the workplace 

The Harvard Business Review reported in January on a few discouraging diversity/inclusion workplace facts: 

  • Women of color, while their workforce numbers are increasing greatly, as are their education levels, aren’t in positions of leadership: there are no black or Latina CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. 
  • What’s more, 46 percent of black women in a 2015 study said they didn’t feel their ideas were heard or even recognized. 
  • A 2016 report found that 59 percent of Latino men experienced snubs and slights at work. That number jumps to 67 percent for Latinas.  
  • Black women are more likely to feel that their superiors don’t recognize their talents compared to white women (26 percent vs. 17 percent). What’s more, black women felt much more stalled in their careers than white women (44 percent vs. 30 percent). 
  • 72 percent of black women, 53 percent of Latinas, 52 percent of Asian women, and 44 percent of white women said they believed that their company defines “executive presence” as one that conforms to traditional white male standards.  

Tips for hiring for diversity/inclusion AND corporate fit 

You want to hire someone who will meet your needs in skills, experience and attitude because these are the types of hires that tend to get up to speed and make a contribution quickly. So while you look at their qualifications and skills, also look at their adaptability and potential. 

Ask candidates what their ideal workplace looks like and also discuss the kind of corporate culture that might work for others but not for them. Doing so helps you see how aspects of your current culture may be unsuitable. It also helps you see a potential cultural direction you may want to steer the company toward. 

Think about how a candidate’s value to your culture meshes with your business’ vision of its future. 

And don’t forget… 

  • Do you host social events that go beyond happy hour? Flexible scheduling options? Food variety in the company cafeteria for different cultural diets?  
  • Remove job postings with words such as “fast-paced” (tends to favor younger people) or “rockstar” (tends to favor men). You may want to try writing results-oriented job listings and seriously consider doing away with hard and fast experience and accomplishments requirements. 
  • More ideas.

Hiring for inclusion/diversity benefits everyone, and your bottom line 

Hiring people who think, look, act, and have different backgrounds than the “norm” at your company does more than just provide minorities and other underrepresented workers with an opportunity to find great work and build terrific careers: it can have a meaningful impact on your company’s bottom line to the tune of 19 percent in increased revenue.  

We want to hear from you 

What do you think about diversity and inclusion? Has your company started hiring more diverse employees? What does your organization do to make sure ALL of your employees feel included? Could WE source and place a more diverse workforce for you? 

Let us know!