Staff Spotlight: Aithyni Rucker – Does “Cultural Fit” have a Negative Impact on Diversity & Inclusion?

In this day and age, company culture is of extreme importance to both corporations and employees. Corporations, law firms, and organizations go through great lengths to ensure that the personalities, work styles, and ideologies of new hires and current employees, fit defined cultural models. These models touch every facet of business, from hiring to retention practices, including evaluations of employee performance and productivity, communications, and how employees are treated.

By definition, diversity means difference and difference causes conflict. Diversity includes the acceptance and respect of individual differences and backgrounds. This means that hiring managers and partners must understand the fundamental notion that every individual is unique and differences should be celebrated and recognized. By avoiding conflict, is hiring for “cultural fit and chemistry” causing companies to create homogeneous teams with diminishing diversity? In global community, where a good number of C-suite executives, law-firm partners, and hiring decision makers are likely to be white males, this begs the question, are we unconsciously sacrificing diversity and inclusion to build corporate and law firm culture?

Removing Bias from Cultural Fit Evaluations

When we seek to have everyone “fit in” we lose the diversity of thought, background, and opinion. To combat this, companies must take active steps to avoid falling into a virtual black hole of employee “similarity”. Hiring and retaining employees who are “similar” opens the door for bias to rear its ugly head. If culture fit is code language for “looks like us, acts like us, and talks like us,” this is an uncomfortable reality that firms and corporations must face. The message of similarity sends a message to current and prospective employees that they are not welcomed and may not “fit in,” essentially depriving the organization from the benefits of a diverse team.

Whether you call it unconscious, implicit, or unintentional bias, it’s all prejudice just the same. In reality, perceptions of differences may not be based in reality. Unconscious bias stems from how you were raised and how you see the world without realizing it. Biases are born from gut reactions. These biases, prejudices, and perceived differences create a negative impact when placed in motion when hiring and evaluating employees. A true effective culture depends on how differences and perceptions of differences are managed.

Appropriate training and an understanding of biases can aid in hiring and employee retention. However, failure to ensure the selection process is based on standard criteria, with trained interviewers, can result in unintentional bias in the spirit of looking for someone who’s a perceived ‘‘good fit.’’ Many cultural evaluations have little to do with potential job performance. Popular interview questions like “What is the last book you read for fun?” and “What types of movies do you like?” can have a reverse effect and turn exclusionary. Additionally, many organizations make the mistake of assuming that those tasked with selecting new hires, during peer evaluations, are equipped to do so fairly because they are nice people or good workers. However, instead of serving as a litmus test of whether or not the candidate would work well and be comfortable in the company, these interviews run the risk of excluding candidates because many employees still work from their own biased perceptions of other groups.

Steps to Merge Culture Fit Evaluations with Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion and cultural fit do not have to be mutually exclusive, it is up to managers and organizational leaders to attack levels of bias within institutions while hiring for and embracing the traits needed for success in a position.

Companies should hire employees committed to organizational purpose, values, and vision, while seeking to diversify. Instead of hiring for “like,” differences should still be sought out, celebrated, and cultivated within a team environment.
Get deep with bias training – Companies and firms should include unconscious bias training within employee onboarding, processes, and human resource and management training.
Extend the search process beyond referrals – 50-70% of all hires stem from personal referrals, and many employees hold an implicit bias in favor of their own race and gender, ensuring that a culture of similarity continues to grow.
Push for Holistic Fit – Companies should stress to employees that “hiring for being like me” is not an organizational goal. Instead encourage managers and leaders to find employees who embody a holistic fit with the position, work environment, management, and business.

National Policy Board Discussion: The Infilaw Value Proposition

Charlotte School of Law hosted four distinguished leaders within the higher education and legal communities and within the Infilaw Consortium on January 7, 2015. Laura Palmer Noone and Carolyn Warner, members of the Infilaw National Policy Board, Shirley Mays, Dean of the Arizona Summit, and the Honorable Shirley Fulton, member of Charlotte School of Law’s board, participated in a series of targeted conversations during the day.

All members of Team Charlotte were invited to attend an interactive conversation entitled “The Infilaw Value Proposition: Growing the vision through entrepreneurial leadership.” During the discussion, the panel shared their personal connection to Infilaw’s mission and experiences of using their individual skills, talents, and backgrounds to drive innovation and move forward Infilaw’s vision. The goal of the session was to inspire each member of Team Charlotte to use their individual leadership skills to foster innovation and entrepreneurial growth within the organization.

In addition to the open discussion, the panel led intimate sessions with key CharlotteLaw faculty, staff, students, and alumni. The first, “Lean in, Push Back, or Lay Low?” was a round-table conversation discussing the personal challenges and triumphs as women leaders. The second, “The Infilaw Value Proposition: Building the Next Generation of Future Legal Leaders” each member of the panel shared their perspective, as leaders within the Infilaw Consortium, of the Infilaw value proposition and Infilaw’s role in developing future legal leaders.

Aretha Blake, Director of CharlotteLaw’s Center for Professional Development noted “The experience we at CharlotteLaw had with these exemplary leaders impacted our desire to achieve the mission as well as rejuvenated our vision for the future.”

The entire day proved to be successful in connecting CharlotteLaw faculty, staff, students, and alumni to the mission and vision of the Infilaw Consortium.

Below are brief biographies of the guests:

Laura Palmer Noone possesses more than 26 years of experience in for-profit higher education including serving as the Chief Academic Officer and President of University of Phoenix. She then became President and CEO of Saras Education, Inc., where she provided professional management and consultation to institutions of higher education, including enrollment and retention support, technology and distance learning capacity. Most recently, she served as President and CEO of Potomac College in Washington DC, where she brought the college to profitability and gained approval for the college’s first master’s degree.
Carolyn Warner, president and CEO of Corporate Education Consulting, has been active for more than three decades on both state and national levels as a respected and knowledgeable public policy and educational leader. Warner has a comprehensive understanding of the relationship of fiscal, social, political and educational issues to key concerns of government, business and the nonprofit sector. She currently co-chairs the Arizona Skill Standards Commission and her fourth book – The Words of Extraordinary Women – was recently published.
Shirley Mays became Dean of Arizona Summit Law School in August, 2010, after serving a lengthy tenure as the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio. Mays currently serves on the boards of The Greater Phoenix Urban League and Tanner Community Development Corporation and is ex-officio on the Board of Governors for the State Bar of Arizona. She is an active member of Links Inc., Jack & Jill of America and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
The Honorable Shirley L. Fulton spent over 20 years in the Mecklenburg County Court System as Senior Resident Superior Court Judge, Resident Superior Court Judge, District Court Judge and Assistant District Attorney. While on the bench, Shirley led the courts in developing a system-wide strategic plan, successfully campaigned for bonds to build the current Mecklenburg County Courthouse, and developed programs to address the needs of non English speaking court participants. A well-respected community leader, Judge Fulton has served on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Task Force, as Chair of the Board of Advisors for the Charlotte School of Law and as President of the Mecklenburg County Bar.