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When “Culture Fit” is Code Word for Affinity Bias

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  • So here’s the question: What if “culture fit” really is code for “If you want to join or be successful in our organization, you need to think and act just like us (the dominant cultural group)”? This is called Affinity Bias—the tendency to give preference to people like ourselves.

By | By Dr. Sandra Upton | https://culturalq.com

A few months back my colleague and friend, Dave Livermore, wrote an excellent article on cultural fit, which is the likelihood that a job candidate will be able to conform and adapt to the core values and collective behaviors that make up an organization. He provided some great insights on identifying culturally intelligent ways to balance adapting to the organizational culture and being yourself. I’d like to further explore this conversation from a slightly different perspective.

So here’s the question: What if “culture fit” really is code for “If you want to join or be successful in our organization, you need to think and act just like us (the dominant cultural group)”? This is called Affinity Bias—the tendency to give preference to people like ourselves.

Every organization has a core set of values that guide how they operate and employees should be expected to share those values. But what are the consequences when those values leave no room for the values, identities, and perspectives of those outside of the dominant culture?

Harvard Business School Professor, Francesca Gino, has done fascinating research and work on the benefits of helping employees become rebels (in a good way!) inside their organizations. In her study of more than 2,000 employees across a wide range of industries, nearly half the respondents reported working in organizations where they regularly feel the need to conform. These organizations unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, urge employees to check a good chunk of their real selves at the door. When this happens both the employee and organization pay a price—which is manifested through decreased engagement, productivity, and innovation. To the contrary, employees who said they could express their authentic selves at work were more committed to their organizations, thus demonstrating higher levels of engagement, productivity, and innovation.

How To Tell The Difference

How do we know when our judgments and decisions genuinely support organizational values that benefit everyone versus those decisions and actions (conscious or unconscious) that favor the dominant culture? In most organizations, Affinity Bias shows up in one of three places: hiring, promoting or day-to-day interactions. The consequences can include missing out on hiring a diverse and highly qualified candidate, promoting the most qualified person into a leadership position, or missing out on difference perspectives and innovative ideas in team meeting or on key projects.

Examples of what someone might think, hear, or say…
Hiring “That first interviewee did a fantastic job! He reminds me so much of myself when I was younger. I think he’s exactly what we’re looking for.”
Promotion/Development “I’m not sure she’s ready for a leadership position, she just doesn’t quite have the executive presence that I’m looking for and I’m not sure she’ll fit in with the other leaders.”
Day-To-Day “We think so much alike, I want you working on this big project with me.”

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