In a thought-provoking essay titled What Your Culture Really Says, Shanley Kane calls B.S. on phrases organizations use to describe their company’s “culture.” Though her post is primarily focused on the startup scene, Shanley explores how the terms we use are often unintentional code words for something far different.
The hardest hitting phrase — and incidentally the one I hear most often from firms — is:
“We make sure to hire people who are a cultural fit.”
What your culture might actually be saying is… We have implemented a loosely coordinated social policy to ensure homogeneity in our workforce. We are able to reject qualified, diverse candidates on the grounds that they “aren’t a culture fit” while not having to examine what that means – and it might mean that we’re all white, mostly male, mostly college-educated, mostly young/unmarried, mostly binge drinkers, mostly from a similar work background. We tend to hire within our employees’ friend and social groups. Because everyone we work with is a great culture fit, which is code for “able to fit in without friction,” we are all friends and have an unhealthy blur between social and work life. Because everyone is a “great culture fit,” we don’t have to acknowledge employee alienation and friction between individuals or groups. The desire to continue being a “culture fit” means it is harder for employees to raise meaningful critique and criticism of the culture itself.
Look around your firm. Next time you talk about your its “culture,” what are you really saying? Are you rejecting people because they don’t “fit” your culture for the right reasons, or the wrong ones?