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Is Cultural Fit A Diversity Killer In Retail?

Date Published: April 20, 2021 | Last Updated:September 15, 2023 | By Hugo Britt
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In a bid to nurture harmonious and robust workforces, an increasing number of organizations are choosing to hire for cultural fit. But many hiring managers misinterpret the concept of cultural fit to hire candidates that they find most relatable, or have shared similar life experiences to them.

The result? A non-diverse workforce of people who all went to the same college, or like the same things.

What does the term ‘cultural fit’ actually mean?

Recruiting for cultural fit means assessing whether or not a candidate is a good match for your organization. Do their values, beliefs, and behaviors align well with your company’s culture and how might they impact the environment at work?

What are the benefits of hiring for cultural fit?

When employees get along well, share values, and can work towards a common goal, their productivity, job satisfaction, and motivation increase. They’ll likely be happier in their day-to-day work, which means fewer instances of employee burnout and a reduced turnover rate.

A 2019 Deloitte survey found that 7% of workers aged 24-36 planned to quit their jobs in the next two years because they disliked the workplace culture. If hiring managers and recruiters can understand and communicate an organization’s culture and core values, they’ll find it much easier to source the right talent the first time around and save on expensive and time-consuming recruitment.

Hiring for cultural fit sounds great in theory, but the concept has faced some criticism. Is it possible to implement fair and objective processes or does hiring for cultural fit threaten diversity in the workplace? 

Does hiring for cultural fit stifle diversity in the workplace?

Research from Boston Consulting Group found that diverse leadership teams have 19% higher revenues thanks to increased innovation. So, if hiring for cultural fit does impact diversity, there’s no question that’s bad for business.

If you are hiring for cultural fit, it’s important to consider the following questions:

Who defines cultural fit?

How diverse is your organization’s leadership team? A homogenous C-suite cannot be expected to understand the culture of the workplace at large, let alone how best to define the parameters for cultural fit.

People of different ethnicities, religions, and sexualities, from diverse backgrounds, and with unique experiences will have different interpretations of what it looks like when a candidate is a good cultural fit.

Does the culture at your retail organization reflect your customers and stakeholders?

This is particularly relevant within consumer-facing industries, including the retail sector. To drive efficiency and consistency across multiple stores in different geographic locations, fostering a monoculture might seem like the best, or at least the easiest, approach.

In reality, you’ll be better equipped to deliver the best service if your workforce is reflective of your diverse customer base. Consumers will choose to spend their money with brands and retailers whose values align with their own.

Do your hiring managers understand what cultural fit means?

Recruitment discrimination is often more subtle than the blatant favoring of someone based on race or gender. Hiring managers might be drawn to candidates who studied at the same college, grew up in the same area, or simply because they connected over a discussion about baseball.

But cultural fit should never be about hiring the most likable or relatable candidate. Not only is likeability highly subjective, but it is so often rooted in stereotypes, discrimination, or unconscious bias. The result? A workforce that all looks and thinks the same. On the surface, it might appear to work well, but they’ll be a significant lack of innovation. Retailers need creative, individual thinkers to maximize customer engagement, drive value, and embrace the latest trends.

Does hiring for cultural fit preclude an inclusive working environment?

When you reject a candidate simply because they are not the right cultural fit, you make two, probably unreasonable, assumptions:

  • The candidate has no capacity to grow, evolve, and adapt.
  • Your organization is unwilling or unable to accommodate candidates who do not fit the mold.

If organizations were to focus a little more on workplace inclusion, and a little less on cultural fit, it might be easier for diverse candidates to integrate and thrive.

How to hire for cultural fit – the right way

Working to foster a healthy workplace culture based on a set of pre-determined values is a valid goal. But you must be cognizant of how a clumsy approach to cultural fit hiring can impact workplace diversity.

Providing hiring managers with additional training about hiring for cultural fit is also helpful. They must understand the distinction between hiring someone whose core values align with those of the company versus hiring someone who they’d like to have after-work drinks with.

Similarly, shared cultural background, educational history, career path, hobbies, or interests, are not acceptable reasons to hire someone under the guise of them being a good cultural fit.

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