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.

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