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Is ‘cultural fit’ an outdated term that hinders diversity efforts?

April 2022

‘Cultural fit’ is an ubiquitous phrase used by firms at the recruitment level. It has long been viewed as a helpful way of measuring a candidate’s suitability and likelihood of successful integration into the firm, alongside things like technical ability. Interview feedback notes often make specific reference to whether someone is considered to be a ‘good’ cultural fit, and this can prove to be the deciding factor where two candidates are fairly equally matched in other respects. This reflects the fact that most people prefer to work with those who will fit into an existing culture rather than disrupt the balance. But is this emphasis on fitting into the status quo counterintuitive to the long-term diversity objectives of modern law firms?

A somewhat nebulous, catch-all term ‘cultural fit’ broadly tends to encompass things like personality, work ethic, academic, socioeconomic, and professional backgrounds, accent and even appearance. Traditional wisdom is that the closer someone conforms to the present culture of the firm, the better. And this worked well when firms were less preoccupied with making meaningful changes to the demographic of their workforce. But with firms more alive than ever to the challenges of fostering a more diverse, equitable and inclusive office, it is necessary to question whether cultural fit aligns with these goals.

From a diversity perspective, it is increasingly clear that hiring talent based on ‘cultural fit’ is an outdated approach that can be counterproductive to the aim of attracting a wider pool of talent. By contrast, the terms ‘cultural add’ or ‘cultural enhancement’ apply a much more inclusive approach to the recruitment of lawyers from underrepresented groups, acknowledging that difference and disruption of the norm can be a positive force for change.

This alternative viewpoint to hiring encourages greater thought about the direction the firm would like its culture to take and how it can make use of strategic hires to drive these changes forward.

How can firms do this most effectively? First, this involves an ongoing exercise to understand where you would like greater diversity within the culture of the firm, where the firm may be falling short in this regard and working alongside internal stakeholders and recruiters to source the right talent needed to plug that gap. Second, at the recruitment level it means discouraging ambiguous assertions as to ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ‘cultural fit’ in favour of encouraging decision makers to see the strength in candidates that bring something different to the table.

At LTN & Partners, we work closely with our clients to support their DE&I objectives, helping them to move beyond traditional assertions around ‘cultural fit’ and towards a more modern hiring outlook that attracts the rich diversity of talent in our existing network.

BBC News