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Avoiding the Sea of Sameness: How Hiring for Culture Improves DEI

Learn the difference between culture fit and culture add. And why you need both to succeed.

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Culture fit has a place in improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), but so does culture addition, or culture add. Hiring a culture add is a dimension of hiring that can compliment culture fit. It stretches beyond if someone is going to fit in and perform the tasks laid out for them, and attempts to understand if a new hire can contribute something unique to the culture as well. Keeping culture fit and culture add in mind can play a key role in improving DEI as well as promoting a positive long-term work culture. Here’s how.

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The difference between culture fit and culture add

We often hear of culture fit, but we don’t often hear of culture add. Culture fit seeks to identify employees that match the organization’s existing values, beliefs and behaviors. In other words, how well will they match and fit into the organization’s existing culture.

Related: How to Hire Superstars

Culture add is the idea that the unique skills, abilities, gifts and personality of a new hire can add something special to the company culture. This means the company is not looking for people who are simply alike, rather people who could complement the existing culture by bringing in a new perspective.

There are situations where you may choose one strategy over the other at different points in the hiring process. No matter what, companies should always focus on hiring the right people, for the right roles. But also think about hiring people who contribute something unique to the organization’s culture. Reframing our lens to hire people with both culture add and culture fit in mind is a better way to promote DEI than simply using one or the other.

Using culture fit to promote acceptance and belonging

Culture fit isn’t always used in a way that promotes diversity. Oftentimes, organizations use “fit” as a way to bring on new employees that think and act alike. But, there are better ways to use culture fit to support DEI.

First, use culture fit to hire diverse talent for the right role. Can the new employee do the job? Are they equipped with the skills and knowledge to complete the task? Or is the company willing to build up the skills and competencies in the employee before they assume the role? The qualifications of the talent should always lead the conversation. It’s a good idea to hire the best person for the job. Otherwise, the company runs the risk of setting a new employee up for failure. The employee may be unable to meet their job expectations, potentially get demoted or get released altogether for poor performance. 

Related: We All Know There Is a Lack of Diversity in the Workplace. Who Is Responsible?

Second, use culture fit to see how well the new employee would fit with their manager. Can the person handle the management or leadership style of their supervisor? Is the supervisor culturally competent enough to work with this individual? It’s important to keep in mind that personalities and cultures can clash, even within a well-meaning organization that embraces difference. Continually bumping heads does not leave anyone feeling safe in the workplace. Hiring diverse talent and pairing them with a manager with cultural competency is something to consider when adding new people to the team.

Finally, use culture fit to determine how well new talent will mesh with the existing team. What team dynamics are currently in place that would hinder or aid the new employee in their success? Does the team have healthy conversations, boundaries and an inclusive culture? Is there turmoil or underlying currents of distress presently on the team? Is the team well-staffed and resourced to support a new, diverse hire? These questions can help assess whether bringing in someone new would introduce more good or damage to the employee and the existing team.

Using culture add to include diverse perspectives and lived experiences

Now that the groundwork has been laid by finding a culture fit, we can move into culture add.

Again, the idea of culture add is to invite new gifts, talents, skill sets and personalities that are not currently present on the team. From the employee side, culture add can mean seeking the opportunity to learn something new in the organization that will add to their skill set. Inclusion, growth and creating powerfully competent teams and employees are at the heart of culture adds.

Confusion occurs when the idea of culture add is limited to race, sex or some other identifier. Many employers think a culture add is limited to “diversification” or bringing in groups with different identities. However, culture add isn’t skin deep.

Yes, anytime an organization can indeed add someone from an underrepresented group to their team, they have the potential to be better off. But, it’s not the identity that makes someone a great culture add. It’s their unique lived experiences, dynamic skill set and worldview.

When we add new people from diverse backgrounds, we invite those who see the world from a different lens because of their unique experiences. This can look like having someone who solves problems differently, has a new framework that generates solutions or is exceptionally resourceful and creative in stressful situations.

If the organization and the employee are a good fit, adding them to the culture introduces new perspectives to old problems, unique methodologies that don’t currently exist and personality traits that can level up everyone’s cultural competency.

Related: 4 Trackable Metrics to Move the Needle on Diversity and Inclusion Goals

Final thoughts

Ultimately, the conversation on culture fit and culture add attempts to hold organizations accountable to ensure they don’t continue to hire a sea of sameness often excluding marginalized talent from consideration. Antiquated definitions of “fit” can unconsciously communicate that a candidate doesn't look, act and think like us and therefore doesn’t belong here. But, reframing our perspective on culture fit can provide more safety and a better environment for marginalized talent. Culture add can create a safer space for those who are often triggered, traumatized and experience microaggressions by older definitions of culture fit.

Hiring with both culture fit and culture add in mind allows us to bring new voices to the table and shift the power dynamic from the employer’s point of view to include a symbiotic partnership with employees. The result is a more diverse, inclusive workspace that centers culture and contribution overlooking or behaving the same.

Nika White

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Dr. Nika White is a national authority and fearless advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion.