How do we resolve the clash between the need for “culture fit” and “diversity pays?”

Companies search hopefully for new hires that fit their culture; an employee who doesn’t fit the organizational culture is more difficult to retain and produces strain on teams, ultimately costing the company money in terms of lost productivity and cost to replace that employee – as much as 50% of a yearly salary. The employee that fits, on the other hand, is much easier for the team to absorb and to continue working together as they have done. Is that a good thing?

More and more research shows that diverse teams produce more effectively. A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean. But these returns were often attained at the risk of personal discomfort.

Ideally, the culture of an organization should align with achieving the vision and goals of the company, and the prospective employee should embrace that culture. Too often, the criteria for hiring diversity really align with the personal comfort level of interviewer, manager, or team, who then use the phrase “not a good fit” to camouflage implicit bias: the “hidden biases of good people,” according to Banaji and Greenwald in Blind Spot.

It is somewhat easier to spot and document under-employment of people of color or of women, but what about the subtler yet important differences in personality, such as introversion, whom I call the “quietly brilliant”? Corporate culture (indeed, culture in general) in the United States is strongly biased towards the outgoing, energetic-appearing extrovert rather than the reflective, more reserved introvert. This bias is seldom tracked.

How much is US corporate culture biased? Although introverts are approximately 51% of the population, the evidence is overwhelming that they are discriminated against in hiring, in being given training to develop and in promotion to leadership positions. And what of the Double Whammy Effect (the effect on women who are also introverts), and the Triple Whammy Effect (women of color who are introverts)?

Implicit bias starts with interview questions that screen out the “different” without regard for whether or not these differences are central to the business goals being sought. In order to accommodate and utilize the strengths of diversity, it is necessary to redefine such terms as “teamwork” and “collaboration.” 

Questions such as, “Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team?” can cause a panic reaction in a quietly brilliant, thoughtful person who enjoys the supportive part of collaboration but works best under circumstances where he or she can withdraw, study, search, reflect and then bring the result of his or her thoughtfulness to the entire group. A better question might be, “What is teamwork to you?” or “How do you feel is the best way for you to contribute to a team?”

While it may be comfortable to work with people just like you, it’s bad for the bottom line. It’s bad for people too: when we stay within our own little cultural “box” we remain wary and even frightened of people who are different from ourselves in our business contacts, our neighborhoods, and our society.

Learning to look for what is valuable in others before we leap into automatic judgment can go a long way towards making business run more smoothly and profitably.

What do you think? What are the best ways to solve the “culture fit” – “diversity pays” paradox?


Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based acclaimed national speaker, author, and executive coach with more than 30 years of experience in speaking and training.

Author of The Confident Introvert, and a life-long successful introvert, she believes that America is overlooking and even discouraging its intellectual treasure: the 51% of the population who are introverts, and who are highly representative of the gifted.

In addition to helping quiet people thrive in a culture that idealizes extroversion, she gives leaders the tools to manage diverse groups in the same setting, and to develop the talent that is quietly under their noses.
Visit her website at http://wordpress-476313-1496493.cloudwaysapps.com to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.