Hire for Cultural Diversity Not Cultural Fit

Move Beyond Culture Fit

Many global development organisations and NGOs have strong cultures that match their purpose-driven work. As a result, their hiring processes have evolved over time to attract, hire, and integrate people into these cultures. This is a common recruiting practice known as “hiring for culture fit.”

Unfortunately, this practice can have negative consequences for organisations that want to build diverse workforces. Focusing on cultural fit can lead organisations to promote leaders from within rather that hire outside talent with different perspectives. It can lead organisations to hire individuals with known experience instead of an amazing candidate from a different sector. Over time, the culture can become inert instead of adjusting to a changing world.

Many organisations, mostly in the private sector, have started to shift their views on hiring for culture fit. In Harvard Business Review, Netflix former chief Talent officer Patty McCord documented how the company shifted its hiring practices. She wrote, “what most people really mean when they say someone is a good fit culturally is that he or she is someone they’d like to have a beer with. But people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need done.”

Biases in Culture Fit Hiring

It is important to recognise what biases emerge when organisations hire for culture fit.

A major one is the “affinity bias” where a hiring manger interviews someone who shares common traits with them. Maybe they went to the same school or worked in the same organisation early in their career. This similarity lends comfort that the person is the right fit for the role independent of other accomplishments or skills. This bias leads organisations to continually hire people like their existing staff rather than hire individuals with different experiences and perspectives.

Another is the “conformity bias” where people conform to the behaviors of the larger organisation. This means that hiring managers are less likely to take risks on a candidate that may not conform with the existing organisation. They do not want to rock the boat, so they go with the safe hire. This bias prevents organisations from spotting unique talent that fits outside of existing archetypes.

Hire for Cultural Diversity Instead

How can organisations push back against these biases? Rather than hiring for cultural fit, organisations can look to hire for cultural diversity. When you hire for cultural diversity, you look for individuals who can enhance your culture, not just fit within it. When you hire for cultural diversity, you also look for people who align with the organisation’s broader goals, not just people with similar professional experiences.

Hiring for cultural diversity can help an organisation attract non-traditional talent. Rather than attracting candidates with similar backgrounds, organisations can attract emerging leaders from other sectors that are excited by their mission. They can also attract valuable talent in technology and finance that might not normally consider a development career but are passionate about the mission. It helps create organisations that are diverse in experiences, values, and ideas.  

How to Hire for Cultural Diversity

To bring cultural diversity into your organisation, there are many potential paths forward including:

  • Understand Your Culture: The first step is to understand your existing culture and its values through an organisational culture assessment. This can also help develop a better understanding of the organisation’s strengths as well as the perspectives it might lack.
  • Integrate Your Culture Assessment with Your Hiring: After you complete your culture assessment, ensure the feedback and next steps are integrated into your hiring plan. If you lack specific skills, experiences, or backgrounds make sure you have a strategy to attract them.
  • Interview for Values: Based on your culture assessment, build interview plans that assess candidates based on their alignment with the organization’s values.
  • Share Jobs Widely: When you advertise roles, do not just post on the typical job boards. Share your roles through alternative means to attract a more diverse talent pool.
  • Diversify And Train Interviewers: Broaden your interview panels beyond the primary hiring manager. Include individuals from different teams and perspectives from across the organisation. Ensure everyone involved in the process understands the need to high for cultural diversity. Make sure interviewers understand common unconcious biases and how to mitigate them. Coach them to not recommend people that they “clicked with” but rather those candidates that best demonstrated alignment with the organisation’s values.

How SRI Executive Can Help

At SRI Executive, we integrate diversity into all our searches. Organisations that have a diverse talent pool help foster cultures of innovation, creativity, and effective decision-making. We support organisations through training and coaching of senior leaders to be aware of their unconcious biases and understand alternative behaviours for building inclusive teams. We work with organisations to create organisational buy-in for improved behaviours and include better practices in performance evaluations. We also work with organisations to install individuals or functions to support organisations diversity improvements to ensure these values are upheld across the organisation. Read more about how we can help your organisation with diversity here.


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