I’ve spent a lot of time lately talking to companies about the struggle to bring more diverse talent into their organizations. During our discussions the topic of culture fit always surfaces as a challenge that causes more harm than good. In the work context, culture fit is defined as the ability of a person to conform and adapt to the values and collective behaviors that make up an organization. But with a little help from the advent of the tech sector, culture fit has morphed into decision making akin to: do they think like me? Do they look like me? Could we hang and have a beer together?
Luckily organizations are catching the error of their ways. Andrew Brown, a partner with LHH Knightsbridge’s recruitment division, says that hiring for culture fit has always been critical, but increasingly, organizations have changed their definition of what constitutes fit. He says, "candidates can demonstrate their interpretation of the organization’s values in various ways, and this has done wonders to increase diverse thinking within a team".
A recent article published in Forbes also cautions that culture fit as a key hiring criteria is falling out of favor. Facebook recognized that the term culture fit was fraught with bias. They even instructed their interviewers to stop using the term because it can easily sway the outcomes of the recruitment process and produce less diverse results.
If you are looking to bring more diverse talent into your organization, here are a few things you can do to challenge your definitions, your process, and its players.
1. Reinforce What Culture Fit Actually Means
If you’re like most organizations, you probably have stated values around customer passion, innovation or integrity. This is what should form the basis of fit with your organization. A global dairy manufacturer has one of the strongest cultures I have ever witnessed. Even as they’ve grown into a multi-billion dollar company, with thousands of employees in multiple countries, they’ve maintained their founder culture. And it hasn’t come at the expense of strong diversity numbers. Why? Because culture fit is defined and safeguarded by their core values. Even in the absence of robust formal development programs, they profit from internal growth and promotion. It’s because in that company fit = care for and develop your people.
2. Question Sacred Cow Criteria
It’s rare that we question long-standing hiring criteria, especially when it’s defended by culture fit, or when it’s embroiled in the organization’s mission. The executives of a golf association told HR they wanted to increase the number of female hires. One of their long held hiring criteria, however, was that not only did employees need to be golf enthusiasts, they needed to be scratch golfers. For those, like me who don’t golf, it means they’re pretty damn good. A scratch golfer can play to a course handicap of zero on any and all rated golf courses. HR challenged the executives to look at roles where the criteria could be lifted, or at least relaxed. Does a manager in IT really need to play that well? Imagine how small this sacred cow hiring criteria makes the pool of applicants. With it, hitting their diversity goals will be near impossible.
3. Put a Different Face Forward
In an interview process, who potential employees meet will shape their perceptions of your organization. If you want diversity, you have to show it. After repeated failures with bias free interviewing workshops and little movement on their diversity numbers, HR from a financial institution turned the annual recruitment drive on its head. They banned male leaders from their alma maters which produced a cadre of mini me’s. Instead, they broadened the base of schools and the areas within the school they recruited from. Next they expanded the recruiting team to include diverse interviewers, and held workshops targeted specifically to female students.
4. Dispel Myths to Educate
There are a number of things you can do on the recruiter end, but sometimes it’s the perceptions of the applicants that need to be broadened. A rail company was serious about wanting to increase female representation in key parts of the company. This included the train conductor—one of the most male-dominated roles of all time. The HR team came up with a strategy that yielded significant results, and didn’t cost a penny. They offered webinars to describe key job postings. The hosts of the virtual events were the recruiters, hiring managers, and females who formerly or currently held the role. The goal is to provide a realistic view of the job, dispel myths, and offer a forum to ask the questions that are on everyone’s mind. Not only did this strategy increase female applicants, it increased the hire rate of females in multiple jobs across the company.
If your organization wants to diversify its applicant pool, take a hard look at your existing practices and assumptions. Ask yourself honestly:
has your definition of fit created more harm than good?
what hiring criteria is limiting diversity?
can you change what ponds you fish in and who’s doing the fishing?
can you give increased profile to roles where gender perceptions weigh heavily?