“They don’t fit with the dynamic of our company culture.” “They fit right in.” “We are looking for the perfect fit.”

You often hear organizations talk about finding the ‘right fit’ to join their team. While usually well-intentioned, we’ve come to learn on the P4G journey that this perspective can cause more harm than good.

When we wear our ‘fit’ glasses, we only have eyes for the people that we see ourselves in. Those who dress and talk and think like us. Those that make us feel comfortable. Did you know that bald guys are more likely to hire more bald guys?

At P4G, if we help clients hire the perfect ‘fit’, we fail at what we do best. 

‘Fit’ – or what we refer to as the ‘F’ Word’ – implies conforming to make yourself agreeable. And creating an atmosphere where people adapt to become agreeable erodes good company culture and actually enforces stagnant or harmful social expectations. Despite good intentions, our brains are wired to make quick decisions that ‘feel’ right. And sometimes following what feels right, prevents us from keeping the doors open to meeting new, incredible people. People with experiences and knowledge different than our own, who contribute something we likely can’t.

The average person absorbs a whopping 74 GB of information everyday; which is the equivalent of watching 16 movies. We can’t consciously process all of it. Our brain does the work by lumping similar things together. We associate what feels familiar or comfortable, as good, and what is unfamiliar or uncomfortable as ‘dangerous’ or not so good. Biases and stereotypes are born this way. When we bring our automatic assumptions to the hiring process we begin to make biases about who belongs in our workplaces and who doesn’t, based on what feels familiar or comfortable to us as humans (read our blog on biases for deeper context).

Fit only works for those who appeal to the status-quo

When cultures of fit become the basis used to hire and promote people who work, live and look a certain way, one factor always remains constant. The culture will favor the majority power, whether that relates to race, social status, gender, or whether or not you golf, played hockey in university or have a cottage on PEI. A culture of fit will end up feeling static, falls into a pattern of group-think and struggles to embrace individuality or diversity. A culture of fit becomes a culture of cookie cutters dicing from the same pile of dough. Over and over.

When people feel the pressure to conform or fit in, they are more likely to suppress distinct elements of their being, in fear of non-acceptance, demoralization or unwelcome aggressions. Employees begin to change or hide parts of who they truly are.

And the consequences are steep. 

By focusing on fit, organizations wind up overlooking and losing talented people. And all too often the people left out are those who feel forced to adjust key personal traits to ‘fit in’. To cope, Black and racialized employees might code-switch in an effort to make colleagues comfortable with their perceived differences. Related to ‘covering’, this practice is a common survival technique people of colour rely on to navigate their interracial interactions in a workplace where they may have been historically excluded or associated with negative stereotypes. This process comes at the cost of a racialized person’s psychological wellbeing and sense of safety. A recent U.S. study found that 97% of Black respondents preferred a fully remote or hybrid workplace. Only 3% wanted to return to work, compared to 21% of white respondents. Findings showed that returning to work meant returning to microaggressions, and more pressure to conform to white standards, resulting in higher rates of burn-out for Black employees. Having to constantly conform to make others comfortable prevents a person from thriving as themselves and contributing in a way that feels natural. 

We don’t want employees to fit in. We want them to belong. If fit is not the answer, then what is?


Embracing a contributor

Teams of belonging are consistently comprised of people who share your core values, believe in your mission and bring unique views, different lived experiences and new ways of solving problems. We believe in building teams of people that are intrinsically different, while aligning with your vision, the why, the how and the what that makes your company tick. 

While a culture of fit is comfortable, a culture of contribution enables us to break out of our comfort zone. A culture of contribution is evolving. Even organizations who encourage growth can hit a wall if everyone thinks the same way. A team of contributors will bring multiple, sometimes conflicting, perspectives and ideas out into the open. When there is a foundation of trust and openness to the culture, people feel encouraged to bring what makes them unique to work. Embracing diverse perspectives is how creativity and innovation thrive.

Bringing differing perspectives to a project or problem, all while working toward the same goal can be powerful. The purpose of contribution is to challenge each other in a way that is healthy and productive. Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant sums it up as, ‘harmony being the pleasing arrangement of different tones, voices, or instruments, not the combination of same sounds. Creative tension makes beautiful music.’

With the support of leadership, strong teams do the work to hold each other accountable to create a culture where new contributors feel ease, relief and a rooted sense of belonging. Aiko Bethea shared on a recent podcast with Brene Brown that, “to create a progressive culture shift, the things that really help create change are not just rules and new regulations, but social accountability.” She says that, “social accountability is what’s going to bring behavior change and invite people towards transformational change.

Teams that are getting it right, are committed to creating a culture of unlearning and relearning, holistic employee wellness, and proactively providing equitable support that is built based on feedback and solidarity with new contributors. 

When everyone can contribute we create stronger teams, better places to work, and ultimately, healthy, creative tension that brings music to life that’s never been played. 

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