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Organizations that pride themselves on the strength of their cultures often seek to reinforce workplace norms by looking for “cultural fit” among potential new hires — candidates who, in the minds of leaders, reflect and will uphold their organizations’ best attributes. Unfortunately, this hiring practice has the often unintended effect of maintaining overwhelmingly homogeneous, monocultural teams. This works directly against initiatives to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) to the detriment of innovation, organizational reputation and talent retention, especially among younger generations.
Fortunately, leaders can begin rectifying this practice by internalizing, modeling, and ultimately operationalizing mindset changes that look beyond “fit” to embrace diverse backgrounds, perspectives, communication styles and even expressions of emotions. In doing so, they’ll make their cultures even stronger, adding and elevating the contributions of those who might experience the world differently, not just because of race or gender, but also socio-economic background, country of origin, sexual orientation, birth order, generation, personality traits and numerous other factors.
Understanding the drivers behind cultural homogeneity
The motivation to hire based on cultural fit is as understandable as it is misguided. Leaders who value their current teams might want to emulate the success they’ve achieved to date and lean into the short-term comfort that, for the majority group, often accompanies conformity. They also understand on some level that de-prioritizing fit can lead to workplace tensions that — while often healthy, constructive and completely manageable — do necessitate time- and resource-consuming investments on the part of organizations and their top leaders.
Unfortunately, the short-term benefit of this homogeneity ultimately gives way to significant long-term disadvantages. In today’s increasingly globalized, multi-generational, multi-cultural world, the sameness that pervades workplace monocultures puts them at a significant business disadvantage, while also signaling organizational disregard for corporate social responsibility. Such organizations ultimately see weaker bottom-line results, higher turnover and reputational damage compared with more innovative, profitable and respected diverse-by-design competing organizations.
This points to the benefits of taking immediate steps to examine and potentially modify how organizations consider, value and interact with team members and prospective employees.
Instead of “cultural fit,” seek out cultural contributors
Understanding that organizations are charged with assessing job candidates based on a wide range of attributes, some of which are challenging to qualify, it can be helpful for talent acquisition teams to actively replace the concept of “cultural fit” with something specific, though more constructive. Such departments might benefit from the idea of seeking out “cultural contributors,” meaning individuals whose perspectives would add to and advance, versus conform to, workplace cultures.
The language here is important as the word “contributors” signals that the new viewpoints being introduced by increasingly diverse teams are welcome and positive. Of course, this thinking is best reinforced with clear, consistent, ongoing communications and concrete actions across enterprises to ensure it goes beyond mere lip service and leads to meaningful, positive change. As always, employees look to the examples set by top leaders for confirmation of their organizations’ lived values, signifying the importance of buy-in and participation among members of the C-suite.
Additional steps to fostering heterogeneous cultures
Recognizing the risks associated with homogeneous workplaces, a growing number of employers are taking additional steps to make their cultures less conforming. For example, many organizations are focusing strongly on fostering greater awareness and acceptance of individual differences within their recruitment/talent acquisition functions. This reflects the understanding that prospective employees are interviewing organizations all while the organizations are interviewing individuals. Candidates who perceive that employers don’t make space for team members’ true, authentic selves will increasingly decline to join such companies.
On a broader level, many organizations are thinking beyond hiring — investing in enhanced diversity training across departmental areas. The best of these trainings go beyond the largely criticized, ineffective versions of the past, encompassing expertly moderated, interactive group discussions and assessments and measurements of their value to participating individuals and the organization. They also emphasize inclusive leadership, which fosters environments in which all team members can contribute and organizations can benefit from their diverse perspectives and experiences.
The most savvy workplaces have made the strategic decision to intentionally infuse enterprises with new cultural competencies that help meet big-picture objectives and drive organizational value. Engaging advisory firms, they embrace a multi-pronged approach including: a discovery phase to determine the organization’s current cultural state; a co-created identification of what constitutes a better state; a design and execution with regard to how to pull this new state through all the roles, processes and systems of the organization; and an examination of how well it worked.
Big picture, organizations that intentionally form diverse-by-design teams and support them with an inclusive workplace culture drive innovative thinking and long-term success. Achieving this requires companies to look beyond cultural fit, expand their recruiting pools and welcome those who will challenge the status quo.