Why Culture Fit is Killing Your Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

According to Atlassian’s second annual State of Diversity Report, which tracked diversity and inclusion metrics in both Silicon Valley and US tech companies writ large, over 80% of tech employees believe D&I is an important subject. However, the study also found that implementation of D&I programs has flatlined, in part because of  “diversity fatigue” and overwhelm due to the sheer breadth of issues that D&I surfaces.

Why the fatigue all of a sudden? The underlying problem may be that tech companies are unwittingly peddling contradicting initiatives: culture fit and inclusion.

Culture fit at first seemed to many forward-thinking businesses like an excellent idea. After all, employees that “fit in” with each other will presumably get along better, therefore accelerating productivity and over time creating an unstoppable, hive-minded machine. Sounds like a great plan, right?

Unfortunately, quite the opposite has developed. The natural end of a culture-fit company can be seen in brogramming culture that runs rampant in Silicon Valley: overwhelmingly white, male, competitive, and well, clique-y.  While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the first three identifiers, a homogenous culture can backfire in multiple ways, all of which contribute to driving away a diverse talent pool.

It creates a monoculture

The natural end of a hiring process based around a hiring team’s subjective idea of culture is a monoculture. While it may feel rewarding for the majority of employees to be around other like-minded people, ultimately, a monoculture can set up a hierarchy based on the arbitrary culture values and reinforce toxic systemic power dynamics by rewarding the in-group and punishing those that have less of the “culture” to contribute or have different thinking or working styles (i.e. ideological diversity of any sort). On top of that, a company with a reputation for a monoculture will create a self-selecting talent pool, effectively turning away potentially huge beneficial pockets of talent, i.e. your minority talent. The last thing a company striving for inclusivity wants is a whisper network discouraging qualified talent, so don’t give them a chance to develop.

Monoculture reinforces biases

Unfortunately, one of the less talked about side effects of monoculture is that a company with a strong “culture fit” could be unintentionally reinforcing cultural biases and stereotypes. A culture of sameness is unlikely to self-examine if everyone is already operating on the same wavelength. This effectively creates a breeding ground for unconscious bias that in all likelihood perpetuates stereotypes and discourages thought-diversity. This could mean that “culture fit” is actually a hidden source of stress instead of a relaxing perk for some of your employees. Practically--depending on your culture, of course--this means that monoculture could be unintentionally working in opposition to other cultural initiatives such as transparency values or diversity and inclusion.

It stalls thought leadership

Third, having entire teams that think the same way stalls creativity and innovation, which is often the cornerstone of tech companies to building an unstoppable, ground-breaking enterprise. A company may shoot out of the gate with an energized, forward-thinking workforce--perhaps in part due to the synchronicity of similar minds working closely together. However, once a company has established themselves, turnover rates could slow progress even further if Talent and Acquisitions is replacing talent with similar-minded recruits. Why? Thought-leadership inevitably involves seeing things from a new perspective, and if a company isn’t getting periodic doses of new perspectives, then naturally the ability to problem-solve and creatively evolve is going to atrophy over time.

What to do instead:

First, consider banning “culture fit” in your hiring initiatives and instead use a “values-add” technique which involves measuring a candidate by what they bring to the table and how that could complement the assets of other employees. How can you make their differences or uniqueness an asset to the company?

Second, according to Atlassian’s Head of Diversity and Belonging, Aubrey Blanche, scrambling to hire “diverse” talent has diminishing returns. Blanche recommends fostering a broader sense of belonging by creating a welcoming environment where employees can respect each other’s experiences. The key to attracting diversified talent is to create a space where underrepresented groups won’t feel further marginalized by company values, behavior, or infrastructure.

Third, create the right kind of inclusive, self-selecting talent pool by weeding out toxic workplace behavior--including intolerance--by screening candidate’s social media. Candidates with minority identities already operate under significantly more stress than those with well-represented identities, so it follows that a company at peak performance will have removed as many stressors--i.e. intolerant behavior--as possible to create a level playing field for their employees.


Want to create a better workplace culture? Social media screening may be right for you. Social Intel provides a brief, informative whitepaper and sample report to help businesses understand how they can create a healthier workplace culture by taking proactive steps to screen their employees’ and prospective employees’ publicly available online information.