What does being a ‘cultural fit’ actually mean?

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That means that when companies reject applicants based on cultural fit, they are likely perpetuating racism, ageism and sexism in the process. “Culture fit is a cop out,” says Bayo Adelaja, CEO of diversity consultancy Do It Now Now in London. “They’re not saying, ‘we don’t think you’ll get along with people’. They’re saying, ‘we’re lazy; we don’t want to do the work to include this new human being’.” It’s a lot easier to cite ‘cultural fit’ in a job rejection email than interrogate your own personal biases to ensure they’re not clouding your judgement.

In fact, there’s a significant downside for companies who rely on cultural fit: they can end up very homogenous. Research shows that teams with a diverse mix of genders, races and sexual orientations are actually better for business. They are more likely to improve market share, develop new products and win endorsement from decision-makers.

“It’s not about liking each other,” says HR consultant and ex-Netflix chief talent officer Patty McCord. “We’re coming together at work to be a team, to deliver something on behalf of our customers, clients or constituents.” To do that properly, companies need people who have different perspectives. “If you go out to hire people who are just like you, it’s unlikely you’re going to solve a problem that people just like you haven’t already solved,” she says.

‘Cultural add’

Some companies are aware of issues that come with hiring for cultural fit. And although some are trying to evolve, the problem currently persists.

For many underrepresented groups, the threat of cultural fit pushes them to tone down who they are. “People actively try to edit their CVs to take out their culture, anything that resembles it, so that they are more likely to get some interviews,” says diversity consultant Adelaja.

Others resort to modifying aspects of how they present or behave in an effort to fit in. Gustavo Razzetti, Chicago-based CEO of consultancy Fearless Culture, saw this happen when he was working with a tyre manufacturing company. A key member of the leadership team was a very extroverted, aggressive white male, and people were being hired who’d get along with him. But some introverts got jobs by putting on a front. “They had to pretend that they were like him in order to be hired, and in order to succeed,” says Razzetti. “They were pretending to be someone else just to please the boss, and they were really unhappy.”

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