Should ‘diversity’ or ‘cultural fit’ be(come) qualification criteria?

Can gender or age – except for actors – be a selection criterion? For a long time diversity was seen as the antithesis of qualification – with “Cultural Fit” the game has been reset.

The ambition to achieve more diversity in different corporate functions and levels almost instantly triggers the question of the right qualification. Even if this can be quickly and clearly uncovered as a form of Unconscious Bias, the relationship between professional qualifications and personal characteristics – aka diversity dimensions – remains unclear.

What companies (should) be looking for

Fuzzy additional requirements such as “they must fit into the company and the team” do not make the situation any easier. The associated, highly bias-prone questions about personal style, habitus, attitudes or interpersonal chemistry represent long-standing issues from a diversity perspective. Under the heading “Cultural Fit”, they are currently receiving special attention, which carries both great opportunities and considerable risks.

High importance of “cultural fit” – without professional assistance

Two almost unanimously reported that the cultural fit of (external and internal) candidates is considered to be of paramount importance. Both also show that companies rarely use reliable methodologies to check the cultural match.

  • 93% of the companies claim to consider the cultural fit (in recruiting) to be important, 36% check it in the job interview (sic), 84.5% have no systematic approach to testing (Stepstone, 2017)
  • Around 80% of companies consider the cultural fit of their applicants (rather) important, 32.4% of HR managers record it ( unspecified), 91.2% have no standardised procedure for it (MetaHR, 2016)

“Unfortunately, these figures can only be explained by a widespread use of the nose factor,” comments D&I engineer Michael Stuber on the results. Companies that consistently tested their core values in formal assessments, however, achieved positive effects on sustainable staffing and development success and engagement, reports Stuber.

It remains unclear in this thematic area how Cultural Fit is seen in the context of professional and personal competencies.

What does the future demand? Professional or personal competencies?

The importance of professional qualifications varies fundamentally across countries: Anglo-Saxon business culture traditionally follows the idea that technical knowledge and skills can be taught and learned (hence the ‘trainee programme’), whereas in German-speaking countries the primacy of professional competence has long been the norm. The globalised, technologised, changing and complex ‘VUCA’ future influences both paradigms:

  • The emerging professional and business world undoubtedly demands distinctive personal skills in dealing with diversity and change, so that the dominant focus on professional qualifications must at least be expanded.
  • The widening gap of more positions with low qualification requirements and an intensification of highly qualified specialist profiles indicates a higher importance of professional qualifications (in the latter area) while for semi-automated jobs personal factors are essential

Professional and personal competencies should – ideally in combination with Cultural Fit – be mapped and checked using multi-layered profiles. But it remains unclear how diversity relates to these elements?

Diversity: component or competitor of qualification profiles

The concept of “cultural fit” can follow very different basic ideas, promoting or hindering diversity or acting neutrally:

  • If Cultural Fit means complementing an existing team in a meaningful way, this promotes diversity
  • When Cultural Fit demands equality or similarity, diversity is hindered
  • If Cultural Fit is striving for a consensus on values, it can be neutral towards diversity – if the values do not imply bias

The same applies to professional or personal suitability components: The diversity that an applicant brings to a team, department or company can and should be considered as added value and even be included in the formal assessment.

The ideal solution

Overall, a sustainable solution can be seen as a combination of

  • Selected specialist qualifications (less is more!)
  • Future-oriented personal qualifications (dealing with change, complexity, virtuality etc.)
  • Compatibility with defined corporate values (verification through a standardised procedure)

A separate Article discusses how such objective approaches can be applied in the context of the digital transformation or of start-ups.