The Advantages Of Not Fitting In

How many times over the last 24 years working within the recruitment and search space have I heard the expression, “cultural fit” or seen it written in a job description? “They are a great cultural fit”, “Candidate A is a strong fit for our organisation” etc.

Over the years organisations have talked in terms of cultural fit, particularly as part of their recruitment process with an emphasis on individuals needing to ‘fit in’ to their culture and their set of values.

But how does “cultural fit” fit into the broader and more global context of Diversity and Inclusion and more importantly an individual’s sense of belonging within an organisation?

The answer is, it doesn’t!

The phrase “cultural fit” is no longer fit for purpose and if we apply the D&I Lens then we should be speaking of “cultural add” and “belonging”.

The key to allowing individuals to be their true authentic selves within the workplace, is providing an environment that is psychologically safe for black, non-white colleagues and other underrepresented groups. Without this Psychological Safety, individuals from underrepresented groups will feel that their “otherness” is still being amplified and so whilst their work mask might appear to be a good “cultural fit”, if they feel they are not able to be their true selves at work then the objectives of D&I and belonging are still being missed.

CEO’s and leaders need to display radical empathy and tune into colleagues from all races and ethnicities. It is incumbent on them to develop and stimulate dialogue, to lean into insights and develop their insight from perspective-taking, to understand what steps need to be taken to create a psychologically safe environment for all of their employees and develop a robust inclusive leadership approach.

We need to shift away from cultural fit to cultural add. Create visible role models and provide space to shift to cultural connections, so employees can be their true authentic selves and feel respected and accepted as such and consequently that they “belong”.

And this is the magic sauce of high performing teams, diverse and inclusive multi-cultural, multi-able, neurodiverse teams, who can be their authentic selves and bring out the greatest innovation, problem-solving capabilities and customer empathy amongst each other. Their differences are their greatest gifts and together with the greatest competitive edge any organisation can harness and that is why organisations who have D&I at the heart of their identity and recruitment outperform the market in terms of profit and revenue by 25%.

And that is the greatest advantage to not fitting in! So please, let us not talk any more about “cultural fit”, but ask what magic ingredients an individual can bring to enhance the secret recipe of your organisation and what you will do as an employer to make sure that their unique contribution and commitment is recognised, supported and celebrated.

Cressida Stephenson is the Founder and Director of EdenChase Associates, a D&I Search Specialist.

She can be contacted at or Linkedin: Cressidastephenson


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