Fit versus Diversity in Hiring

An increasing number of companies are running into a distressing conundrum that pits the need for hiring people who are a good “fit” for an organization against more recent notions that make a strong case for diversity as a hiring goal. Are these two common hiring goals mutually exclusive? If not, what is the way forward?

Everyone feels the pain when it becomes clear that a new hire simply is not a good “fit” for the organization’s culture. Dealing with that pain and its consequences leaves many hiring committees renew their commitment to better vetting of candidates for cultural fit.

Here is where diversity advocates rise up and explain how if you make sure everyone “fits” the organization, then how can you eventually be left with anything but a very homogenous workforce that lacks the kind of diversity that supposedly makes a company and its teams better?

The focus on fit is enabled at least in part by Big Data and TM/HR analytics. Once a company figures out what it is that makes for the perfect employee, the hiring algorithms can take over and make sure all candidates fit the profile. Over time, everyone’s going to be pretty much the same kind of person throughout the organization or within each department. They may look diverse at a glance, being from all over the world or from a wide variety of backgrounds, but beyond the surface they will be intrinsically homogenous.

The promise of diversity, on the hand, is all about collaborating across differences in attitudes, ideas, perspectives, and so on. Those differences inevitably result in conflict, which is why diversity must be managed very carefully, but the result of such creative friction often leads to innovation and unexpected solutions.

One simple way to position the path forward in the face of this conundrum is to reframe the challenge from an either/or choice to a both/and approach. In other words, rather than seeing the two as mutually exclusive, consider how they can be arranged in some kind of complementary balance. For example, purposefully hiring some workers who don’t “fit” because of the need for their unique perspectives and ideas. There’s no reason why companies can’t hire for both fit and diversity.

It’s also important to understand that people can fit a company’s values and work environment without everyone being exactly the same. If you’re hiring practices appear to be leading to a high degree of homogeneity, then it’s time to mix things up with a shot of diversity. In this sense, companies can use Big Data and analytics to make sure they don’t become overly homogenous.

Hire for fit enough to enjoy the benefits of good fit – employees who stick around longer and deliver better performance, but no so much that there’s no spark from differences and diversity. This kind of fit-hiring means making sure that if a position involves an open work environment with constant and close collaboration with team members, you don’t hire someone who prefers working independently or even remotely because group work drives them crazy. Hiring for that much “fit” should still leave plenty of room for diversity.

Too often, however, hiring for cultural fit winds up translating into hiring bias where hiring managers hire people they like to be around or work with. That kind of fit-hiring leads to the wrong kind of homogeneity.

Getting the best from both worlds means making sure you hiring managers are well versed on what it means to keep the two seemingly opposite goals in some kind of essential balance as two sides of the same coin. Being clear on what attributes help employees fulfill corporate goals is essential, as is making sure the right cultural fit questions are developed that steer clear of hiring bias, and also a better understanding of how diversity benefits the organization. In the final analysis, diversity without cultural fit leads to gridlock while cultural fit without diversity leads to less innovation.

June 25, 2016   Updated :November 16, 2016   cutural fit, diversity, hiring, recruitment   

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