Stop Killing Diversity in the Name of the Company Culture

The look and feel of your company culture isn’t always what the experts tell us it’s supposed to be like. It doesn’t necessarily have our defined values at the core, dictating the hiring and decision-making processes, which are based off of business goals. There is an unwritten, unintentional part of company culture that will often have a lot more pull in how your organization’s teams are crafted.


Many organizations have what I like to call “pretty bird syndrome”. You know when a bird looks in the mirror, and they fall in love with the beautiful bird they see looking back? It’s human nature to be attracted to, or focused on the people with whom we have similarities, but let’s not slap a nice label on it, like “company culture” and call it a day.


This first definition from Bain & Company is what leaders want and need their company culture to be, but only about 10% of organizations are successful at nailing it down.

“A true high-performance organizational culture provides a company with its single greatest source of competitive advantage. The culture inspires people to go the extra mile–to make and execute good decisions even when nobody’s looking.”

That doesn’t say anything about attire, interests, age or favorite music genres. However, when you enter an office with a “solid company culture” those are things you’re going to see in common.



I’m sure you’ve read, experienced or even implemented the “Would I have a beer with this candidate?” test. Similarly, some organizations are going to be reluctant to hire someone in a suit, or transversely, someone with facial hair or tattoos. In a particularly awesome rant from Moz’s Rand Fishkin, he establishes that company culture isn’t defined by a candidate’s willingness to go out for a beer, or company picnics, or their preference for Star Wars over Star Trek.

“Cohesion isn’t about finding lots of people who are the same, but about making sure there’s no one on the team that detracts from others and that many get more enjoyment and progress from the diverse perspectives their co-workers bring.” -Rank Fishkin, Co-founder of Moz


We gravitate toward those who are similar to us because it’s easy and it’s natural, that doesn’t make it right, or effective in building teams. So how can we break this pattern of exclusionary hiring in the name of the company culture?

In a fantastic piece from author and engineer, Carlos Bueno, it’s suggested to write down these unwritten laws for everyone to see. Must not wear a suit, beards are a plus, must enjoy Thai food, must have at least one Blue Grass station on their Pandora playlist… You get the point. These petty checklists, aren’t driving success in any way, they’re stifling creativity, diversity and innovation. When they’re in black and white, it’s hard for anyone to really stand behind them (and it could be super illegal by the way). 

“The word “privilege” literally means ‘private law.’ It’s the secrecy, deniable and immune to analysis, that makes the balance of power so lopsided in favor of insiders. Calling it out and making fun of it is not enough…. The collateral damage of “false negatives” is as large as it is invisible. But it is difficult to argue with success. It takes a humility and generosity that must come from within. It can’t be forced on others, only encouraged to develop.”

78% of respondents in a Development Dimensions International (DDI) study believe that organizations and hiring managers do not assess for culture fit because they do not know how to do this. Organizations need to take a hard look at the real definition of their own culture before they can even pretend to hire in the name of it.

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