Cultural fit or diversity?

14/11/2019
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Cultural fit and diversity have become popular buzzwords in recruitment and HR circles, but do they complement one another? Are they compatible and, most importantly, can we hire for cultural fit and still utilise the benefits of diversity?

Hiring for both is the current objective of many organisations based on advice from industry experts. Although well intended, getting the balance right is not simple. The reality is, it’s quite complicated, and employers need to give careful consideration to job requirements when applying cultural fit and diversity criteria.

Why organisations hire for cultural fit

Cultural fit can be the bond that holds teams, or even an entire workforce, together. When employees’ beliefs, ethics and actions align with the core values of the company. On paper, it looks perfect; in theory, it sounds infallible. But in reality, hiring for cultural fit comes with some drawbacks.

When everyone has the same outlook, agreement and alignment is relatively straightforward and people will not feel inclined to challenge anything. An attitude of ‘if it works, why try to fix it’ can easily set in. Processes can become routine and eventually stagnate, leaders may not be able to recognise system faults, which may result in numerous drops in productivity across different activities.

Why a diverse workforce is essential

There is ample research to prove that a diverse workforce improves performance, gives companies a competitive edge and positively impacts the bottom line. Diversity entails people of different genders, races, cultures and generations collaborating to share their skills and experience.

Various levels of skill and differing perspectives make robust teams and departments. Challenging processes and ideas are constructive because it drives innovation and opens people to new ideas. Today, almost all business is conducted at a global level and to remain competitive companies must evolve and adapt to the needs of a diverse marketplace.

Can cultural fit and workplace diversity coexist?

With planning and effort from HR and selecting managers – yes, but they are rarely a spontaneous match. When employers use big data and artificial intelligence, in particular, to screen candidates for compatibility they run the risk of making hiring mistakes.

Cultural fit undeniably encourages employee cohesion with the company culture, but employers must be aware of false-consensus bias. Believing that the collective group thinking is the only right way can cost the company in the long run.

A diverse workforce is essential to remain competitive, but many managers still practice unconscious bias in the workplace. This problem can be exacerbated if an organisation is made up of very similar demographics of people who have developed siloed thinking. The collective thinking of the general workforce also impacts the success of diverse hires. If a number of employees treat someone as if they do not fit in, colleagues will usually quickly follow suit leaving the new hire feeling alienated, and likely to leave.

How can employers find a healthy balance?

There are two vital factors to finding a balance. Firstly, avoid applying strict, narrow-minded rules for attracting cultural fit and diversity. Bring the human element back into recruitment, because candidates and selecting managers are individuals with minds of their own. Consider each role separately and identify the strengths needed. Not every position requires the same personality traits. Cultural fit is more about ethics than it is about personality. People can have shared values but have very different characters and habits.

Secondly, take a good look at unconscious bias in your business environment. Many people may appear to be unbiased, but their decisions and behaviour will tell you differently. Conduct diversity audits, paying particular attention to how people of different cultures, races and gender are appointed and if they progress in your company. It is advisable to bring in neutral, external consultation such as iHR Australia who offer a comprehensive HR consulting and audit service.

Research shows that specific industries are more inclined to biases, whether unconscious or blatant discrimination. Leaders in broad-based bias are the tech, manufacturing and mining industries. The hospitality industry is particularly prone to gender discrimination, by appointing and retaining women in non-managerial and menial roles.

Conclusion

Both cultural fit and diversity add value to organisations, but to get it right employers must foster an attitude of inclusivity and focus on each employees’ contribution and future potential. Although inclusivity does filter down from executive management, if staff harbour biases new hires will not last. An attitude of tolerance and inclusion must become part of the company culture.

The most effective way to address any kind of bias in the workplace is by creating awareness through open dialogue and ongoing training. Technology has simplified training and eLearning around racial diversity is readily available to all employers.