Why "Culture Fit" is the Wrong Way to Hire Talent

Every workplace has a culture. Many think of that stuffy traditional marketing or accounting firm where everyone must dress sharp and even the water cooler is guarded like Fort Knox. Or perhaps the more modern and laid-back tech start-up where people can dress how they want, collaboration is encouraged, and there's a beer tap next to the jugs of organic coconut water.

But if you're hiring based on that cultural fit alone-- namely, who you think is going to last hours at a ping pong table after discussing APIs all day-- you're making a mistake.

At the Geekwire tech ping pong tournament. Why is ping pong the tech game of choice? We may never know. If you were different than these folks, would you feel welcome here? Why do we recruit from gatherings of "we're all the same" like this?

At the Geekwire tech ping pong tournament. Why is ping pong the tech game of choice? We may never know. If you were different than these folks, would you feel welcome here? Why do we recruit from gatherings of "we're all the same" like this?

A diverse workforce is a powerhouse.

"Hold the phone!" you yell. "The best talent that came my way and fit in the best with my vision for the company happened to be predominantly white and/or male. Why should I force 'diversity' for the sake of it?"

Let me guess: you've sat through the lectures on diverse hiring in tech and thought it was all wrong. Perhaps you've even groaned at one of those brochures for a conference where someone has the job title of "Chief Diversity Officer". But here's why you need to look beyond culture, particularly if yours is looking like a monoculture.

First things first, you're likely getting "diversity" all wrong.

Calm down. No one's saying your staffing problem is too many white men between 25-35 on deck. But people tend to have a limited and often myopic view of diversity: it's not just about gender and race. Diversity encompasses the following things aside from just gender and skin color:

  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Marital/family status and lifestyle
  • Size
  • Disabilities
  • Religion
  • Nationality/country of origin
  • Upbringing/background

This list isn't even exhaustive, but all of these characteristics that also include gender and race are what makes a workforce diverse. There's no way to know all of these things on a job interview or trial, of course. Some of them may be apparent when you see that person (like race or size) but others may not be or it's impolite to ask.

When your employees are diverse, you get multiple perspectives.

You know what really sucks? Expensive focus groups.

User testing that gets the same results over and over.

Floods of reports that your users are facing abusive experiences, dark patterns, and other things your staff just never dealt with pre-launch.

When you have a diverse workforce, those perspectives that go beyond what you, and the subordinates you most identify with, are suddenly in-house without having to arrange tons of expensive market research and user testing. For instance, if you have more women and racial minorities on staff they're more likely to point out how someone is likely to be harassed or abused on an online platform and will come up with features to prevent this before the issue happens. Employees who come from marginalized groups know what your user base in the same group is looking for in their experience.

Got a problem that your team keeps hitting the wall on? Chances are if you've got employees who grew up in tough situations, or in cultures that adapt better to teamwork than "rugged individualism", they can think faster on their feet than the people who grew up in middle class comfort on the coasts did.

Want to do business around the world? Someone who's lived in other countries or is not from America can fill you in on how it's customary to do business there.

 

Diversity opens up more doors than you think. It's also not just about gender and race and hiring on those bases just to make things appear that way. Your users, other staff members, and other stakeholders all benefit.