Hire for diversity: Culture fit is an excuse for mediocrity and exclusivity

by Jobbatical November 29, 2017

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Culture fit is typically considered an important thing to hire for, but it’s one of the most dangerous threats to creating and sustaining a diverse workforce. Hiring for culture fit has the potential to hinder growth, and provides a convenient, widely accepted excuse to not hire individuals who disagree with what you already believe.

Company culture refers to the symbiosis of an office; how well a team gets along, how wholly the employees embody the beliefs and values of the company, and the demographic profile of a team. When preserving company culture is held above all else, diversity suffers, and exclusivity reigns.

When professionals aren’t comfortable working with individuals who don’t share the same background or socioeconomic status, the company is at a disadvantage because it enables mediocrity. Science shows that a homogeneous group is less informed, less effective, and less decisive. In contrast, a diverse team is more effective, innovative, and adaptable.

Challenges to diversity

The arguments against diversity (although they would never be worded that way) include added conflict, communication barriers, and increased costs associated with mindful hiring.

You may notice more disagreements in the office when you bring a heterogenous group together to accomplish something. We tend to like people we view as similar to us, which means that increased diversity could create conflicts that weren’t there before, such as appropriate language or the “best” way to manage schedules.

Communication also becomes an issue if you don’t have good structures in place. For example, if your team gets along and goes out for drinks regularly, they may be used to texting each other both for social reasons as well as for work. When you introduce employees who may not share the same interests outside of work, you’ll need to establish professional communication channels such as a project management tool or Slack.

Note: Establishing professional communication channels should be a company practice regardless of diversity or company culture.

Finally, focusing on diversity could be expensive initially. Companies with a history of exclusivity in the workforce may need to invest in training and assessments to get a good handle of how large or encompassing the issue is. Training may be needed to reframe what was accepted as company culture previously, and equip your team to work effectively despite cultural differences.

How diversity wins

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When it comes down to it, hiring for diversity simply means hiring the right people. Despite the challenges that having a diverse workforce could create, the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to mindfully hiring team members of different backgrounds and beliefs. Below, we list the arguments for diversity that you need to know to build the best team for your company.

A diverse team makes better decisions

“Diversity triggered more careful information processing that is absent in homogeneous groups.” –Better Decisions Through Diversity

When you bring a group of people with different backgrounds together, better ideas surface from the contrast. Diversity has the ability to drive more creative problem solving, since the lines of reasoning that someone is used to may not come as naturally to others in the team. It forces discussion, instead of allowing the assumption of agreement through similarity.

Diversity breeds adaptability and innovation

Our problem solving skills develop largely from our experiences in life; family background, how well our parents taught us to handle different issues, the issues we had to resolve as we grew older, and the training we got as part of our education. Even personality traits make a difference in how well an individual can innovate and adapt to problems.

Diversity becomes key driver of innovation as different backgrounds and personalities bring a variety of problem solving skills to the table. This makes for a more adaptable team as a whole, that is better equipped to think critically about issues and propose multiple possible solutions.

Foster relationships without discrimination

“Diversity now should focus on creating an atmosphere that fosters connection.” — Impact of Workplace Diversity

Both society as well as business benefits from the exchange of ideas without discrimination. In diverse teams, stereotyping is almost eliminated as team members learn to view their colleagues as unique individuals rather than making assumptions.

Avoid a workplace of jerks

When you have a diverse team, members who are less easy to work with become more obviously so. Diversity becomes clarity. If a team is made of similar backgrounds, inappropriate comments aren’t as aggravating, because they may be targeted toward an unrelatable demographic, and therefore go unnoticed. However, in a heterogenous workplace society, these comments are more likely to be called out and questioned by an employee’s peers.

For example, did you know that women are more likely to be interrupted than men? This is often unintentional and goes unnoticed by both the interrupter and the interrupted, but in a male-dominated office, a single female voice may more often than not go unheard despite making valid contributions.

Gain the competitive edge

Research shows us time and again that diverse teams gain the competitive edge when it comes to business. Variety creates more productivity, higher retention, and multiple competencies for your company.

How to hire for diversity

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Go for culture add vs. culture fit

“Despite the increased focus on culture as an asset, the ‘can-I-have-a beer-with-this-person’ litmus test could be a doubled edged sword if not watched closely.” — Alexandra Wood

A healthy company culture is one that embraces diversity, and remains collaborative despite differences. In fact, a healthy respect for company culture makes your business more attractive to candidates and creates better results.

Good company culture raises employee retention and attracts top talent. It is important for your business. However, it’s dangerous to tie success to company culture and hire with too much importance placed on culture fit. We aren’t saying it’s the enemy, but when held above all, it becomes a huge stumbling block for diversity.

Instead of hiring for culture fit, aim for culture add. This is when you hire for traits that will add another dimension to your company culture, instead of simply assimilate into it.

Look for candidates outside your comfort zone

Seek out candidates with the right skills and qualifications whom you wouldn’t normally hire. This could mean looking for candidates from a different culture, with a different background than you’re used to, or even candidates outside your timezone.

Jobbatical makes it a little easier to win the talent war, as we connect these all-star professionals with global companies ready to get diverse.

Start here to find the great hire you never expected to get

Know your responsibility as hiring manager

“Responsibility for the success of company’s diversity/inclusion efforts lies with senior management.” — Fostering Innovation Through a Diverse Workforce

One critical role of the hiring manager is to act as a gatekeeper for who gets hired. You decide who gets to interview with the team and throw their hat in the ring. Your responsibility is to hire mindfully, understanding your own conscious or subconscious biases, and always aiming for culture add instead of culture fit.

Paying attention to company culture is excellent for fostering a healthy workplace environment and keeping your employees happy. However, like all things, hiring for culture fit must be weighed against checks and balances to gauge whether it has passed from helping to hurting your business.

Join us in our fight against “the same” as we work toward changing the face of business to incorporate more effective, high-performing teams. Today, HR managers have the ability to stretch limits more than any other generation that came before, as technology enables us to hire beyond stereotypes, beyond our own prejudices, and beyond borders.


This post is a part of Jobbatical’s hiring blog, designed to help hiring managers get their teams to the next level. To get our new articles straight to your inbox, please sign up for our hiring newsletter.

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