“People like us hire people like us.”


Companies hire “people like us” despite clear data that shows that diverse, heterogenous organizations innovate faster, outperform competitors, and bring greater long-term value.

A McKinsey report “Diversity Matters” based on feedback from 366 companies in 2015 had found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. The report added that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

Yet, our quest for cultural fit has created workplaces where homogeneity, conformity, groupthink and poor decision-making thrive. As our internal biases promote cultural fit, we fail to understand a “different” candidate’s worldview. Sadly, this stifles opportunities for candidates who “do not fit in” with us.  In the long run, this aids systemic institutional racism, a primary cause for social inequalities.

It takes seconds for our preconceived biases and privileges to deny opportunities for someone different from us. We go a step further when we invite candidates for lunches and dinners to figure out etiquette, cultural similarities and interpersonal traits. We forget to ask: “Is this the right choice?” For many, this could be their first entry to a fancy restaurant. In our minds we ask : “Will she/he fit in with those who we go for happy hour with?”

According to Diversity and Inclusion consultant, Simma Lieberman, the consulting firm Cubix International surveyed 55 organizations including Ikea and found that 9 out of 10 recruiters passed over applicants that were not a “cultural fit.”

So, what’s your definition of work culture? “Is it playing Ping Pong with the team at 7 pm on Fridays or investing in an employee’s growth and achievement ?” asks Monique Porras, Founder & CEO of the executive search firm The Kempington Group.

“There is a difference between work culture and a company’s environment,” Porras adds. “Ping Pong contributes to your work environment, but cultural fit is really about the beliefs, behaviors, values and overall attitudes that employees share.”  

We now live in an age of forced uncertainty. Leaders are grappling with seismic shifts in their industries and global workforce needs are changing by the hour. We cannot survive with the old human resources mantra of “hire for fit, train for skills.”

Professor Lauren Rivera at the Kellogg School of Management taught us long ago that “hiring is a cultural match between candidates, evaluators and firms.” Dr. Rivera’s award-winning study in 2006-07, “Hiring as Cultural Matching: The Case of Elite Professional Service Firms,” consisting of over 120 interviews across  the banking, legal and management fields found that “Cultural fit was a formal evaluative criterion mandated by organizations and embraced by individual evaluators.

Evaluators assessed merit in their own image, believing that culturally similar applicants were better candidates. They also sided with and “explicitly fought for candidates with whom they felt an emotional spark of commonality,” the study concluded.

So, next time you are in an interview panel, look in the mirror and ask: Isn’t it time for us to stop hiring people like us?

According to Stefanie Johnson, PhD., author of the national bestseller “Inclusify”: “There is one more reason to hire people who are in a different category than you- it will make you better.”

Don’t you want to be better?

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