Why achieving diversity in tech requires firing the industry’s ‘cultural fit’ mentality
If you have interviewed for a technology job, there’s a good chance the words “culture” and “fit” made an appearance during the phone-screen phase, or in early rounds of interviews. It is no longer enough for a candidate — especially early to mid-career — to arrive to job interviews with a stellar resume and relevant technical skills. They might also have to come with their best “I’m normal and will fit into the overall team culture of this company” outfit on. Over the past decade, the idea of hiring for “cultural fit” has become as important as, and at times superseded, hiring to fit a job description across forward-looking industries, from tech to transportation.
The nuance of this shift may be a cause for concern — especially for a global tech sector in search of a clear route to workforce diversity. Many of today’s tech human resources teams are tasked with recruiting a diverse group of people and retaining star employees. However, they still tend to supplement those pursuits with cultivating a unified office culture. While the industry has largely moved on from using ping pong tables as a recruiting tool, hiring people who pass the Beer Test — an applicant that hiring managers could work with in the office and hang with at happy hour — remains commonplace. Further, hiring based on a hiring manager’s own narrow set of requirements needed to fit their idea of a relatable person opens the door to all sorts of unconscious biases. Taking this recruiting shortcut also raises the bar for candidates from already under-represented groups, including minorities and women.
The main casualties: the pursuit of diversity and business bottom lines. It is true that research-backed conventional wisdom suggests happy workplaces are productive workplaces. What that line of thinking doesn’t account for is the fact that exclusively hiring talent for interpersonal compatibility can negatively impact the quality of work and focus of employees. In other words, employee camaraderie does not equal workplace compatibility. It definitely does not equal workforce diversity. And while a company may benefit from a general aspect of like-mindedness, there’s a great chance that the actual work is suffering due to the lack of diversity — both in people and ideas. Here in Toronto, hiring managers still focus heavily on likeability, which at times can be seen as more important than technical skills. My team and I recently began to see to potential impacts of “cultural fit” as we started to dive into the findings of our new report on the state of talent in Toronto’s emerging tech sector.