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Hiring for culture add: building diverse and inclusive cultures

Reading Time: 7 minutes

When recruiting new team members, evaluating for “culture fit” is an outdated practice because it can lead to discriminatory hiring practices. When you rely on rapport as a major hiring criteria, you’ll prefer candidates with whom you easily connect … likely because of common ground you’ve established quickly.  It’s easy to like people whose experiences you understand because they are so similar to your own. 

There are organizational risks to using the squishy definition of culture fit when hiring for teams. Passing on a candidate because of culture fit is a fancy way to disguise what could really be hiring manager gut feelings and good rapport in an interview. If you don’t dig deeper to understand why candidates aren’t selected, you’re potentially welcoming unconscious bias into your recruiting processes.  This will prevent you from creating a diverse and inclusive organizational culture. 

What is “culture add?”

Recruiting for “culture add” has become a more inclusive talent acquisition strategy. It means evaluating candidates for what they will add to your culture, which will inherently bring something new and different to a team.

When you make hiring for “culture add” an important criteria, you’ll build talent pipelines with candidates diverse to the team for which you’re recruiting. You’re on your way to a more diverse and inclusive culture.

Why does it matter?

There are a lot of steps to clearing bias and evaluating candidates for culture add. But, don’t skip them. First, it’s wrong to discriminate even if you aren’t doing it consciously. Second, having a diverse and inclusive organizational culture is a business advantage you can’t ignore. Here are a few advantages:

  • Increased profitability.  Companies who have diverse executive teams are 33 percent more likely to have above-average profitability, according to this report by McKinsey (and other interesting stats within).
  • Better innovation. Companies with diverse teams introduce an average of two extra products in any given year, double the average for large companies.

When can you use a “culture fit” recruiting strategy?

There is some research that says startups might be better served if they recruit solely for culture fit at first. From Adam Grant:

Grant’s research found that startups that solely hired for culture fit were more likely to survive those that recruited based on skills.

But, data from this study also says a company full of people like you isn’t an advantage as you grow. Grant concluded that publicly traded companies have the slowest growth rate when they hire for culture fit alone.

His theory is this: culture fit leads to efficient collaboration in early stage companies, when it’s all about survival and working quickly. Your team speaks in shorthand. Once you’re a bigger company, an organization filled with culture fits stymies innovation. 

So, when is it most advantageous for a company to switch from hiring primarily for culture fit to skills (or a mix of culture fit and skills)?  There’s no data in the research that answers that question.

But, as a startup cofounder, I will tell you from experience that innovation is important for survival too. You’re exposed if your company can’t innovate by responding to market changes swiftly

Shifting from culture fit to hiring for culture add

Stories Inc. is a small business that has always hired on our values. We always will.  But, we’ve also adopted “culture add” as a hiring strategy, to  develop a more diverse and innovative team.

Deciding to consciously add diversity to your team is only part of the battle. There’s a lot to do once you’ve committed to it. And, creating a diverse and inclusive culture is a constant work in progress. I’m speaking from experience here. Stories Inc. is still working on this. 

What not to do

There is a wrong way to recruit for team diversity.  When we first made the switch to hiring for culture add vs. culture fit, I started to screen people into the process solely because of what they looked like. This is also discriminatory, even if your intentions are to create a more diverse team. Do not do this.  

Building a diverse culture starts with a talent pipelines that include underrepresented candidates.  What are you doing  that discourages underrepresented candidates from applying to your company?

It might not always be obvious. For example, Howard University is a few blocks away from our office. But, their online internship recruiting system was hard to use. Two schools with a primarily white student body used recruiting technology that made it easy to post our open positions and distribute them to potential student interns. For years, I was only recruiting from primarily white schools because the job posting process was easier, without realizing the talent pipeline implications. By excluding Howard University, I excluded an important source of underrepresented candidates.  

Yes, that might mean putting in more effort to uncover and build relationships with new candidate sources. And yes, examining your own unconscious biases is really uncomfortable. But, doing this work is worth it to create more diverse talent pipelines, which translate into more diverse teams.

What to do

Over the years, we’ve sought out a few excellent D&I experts who we can ask for help when we’re stuck.

We’re bringing that expertise to you. We’ve partnered with VH Included, organizational diversity, belonging and inclusion consultants, to create a guide that addresses the basics of building diverse and inclusive cultures. Download for guidance from the experts, and stay for tips on how to incorporate your D&I work into your talent attraction efforts.

Download the eBook here. 

What do you think of the culture fit vs. culture add debate? Does the size or economic state of the company matter? What have your experiences been like? Email me at to discuss, tweet us, or comment below.