Hiring for “culture fit” is among the most widespread and exclusionary practices in hiring today.
And it is pervasive! One study found 84% of recruiters look for “fit” in their selection process.
That is 84% too many.
But what, exactly, is wrong with culture fit? On its surface, “fit” probably sounds like a good thing. After all, don’t you want your employees to click into your workplace like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle?
The Lie of Culture “Fit”
The problem with “culture fit” is that it’s coded language that nearly always means “culture sameness.”
Think about it: when you’re hiring for someone who “fits” – given that most companies in Western countries are disproportionately led by white men – you’re hiring for someone who acts and thinks the same as everyone else.
It doesn’t take much to see how exclusionary this is – not to mention detrimental to the hiring company, if the organization wants to stay competitive and attract top talent.
Tiffany Tate is a hiring expert with over a decade of career development experience, and one of the women of color who generously shared her insights in my book, Inclusion on Purpose. She points out:
"The old culture fit model relied on deciding whether to hire someone if you thought you could be stuck in an airport or blizzard with them. It's a bizarre metric—and riddled with biases, because you would likely choose to be stuck in an airport in a blizzard with someone who looks like you.”
The “blizzard test” is not an effective assessment of who would best perform a job on your team. Tiffany advises her clients to move away from an outdated model of assessing how much you like a candidate to how well they could do their jobs.
The Inclusion in Culture “Add”
Rather than focusing on culture fit, organization leaders must concentrate on culture add. Seek to hire people you don't already have represented, whether by race and gender, educational background and experience, country of origin and languages spoken, or other identities.
A plethora of research shows that harnessing the power of diverse teams leads to better outcomes: less groupthink, more innovative solutions, and overall more profitability. When teams prioritize hiring a candidate who would be a culture add rather than a culture fit, they're more likely to benefit from out-of-the-box thinking and better outcomes.
In my book, I also share my favorite example of how culture add can lead to justice and fairness when the stakes are seriously high.
Look, structural bias cannot be dismantled overnight. But declaring that your workplace is no longer seeking a culture fit for new roles and disrupting peers when they reject a candidate for not being a culture fit is a quick win.
Ensure that your organization prioritizes the hiring of a diverse range of employees, especially women of color. This is not just HR's job; it is every manager's responsibility.
You can read about Tiffany’s experience of being passed over due to “culture fit” in Inclusion on Purpose. And, she’s featured below! But I want to leave you with this: Tiffany now coaches clients to navigate the recruiting process and advises countless leadership teams and boards on hiring and retention best practices.
During these interactions, she advises her clients to inquire of interviewees, "How will you add to the culture on our team?"
And now, I want to ask you that question! How do you add to the culture on your team, in your community, in your family or friend group?