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Does he fit in?

I recently did a talk at the IGDA Leadership Conference on the top ten ways to get and retain diversity in your company. Lately, however, one of the the main topics in that talk came up again in casual conversation with a couple of industry veterans as we were talking about hiring for our companies.

“Finding qualified talent is really tough,” I said.

“Yah, and finding qualified talent that fits with our company culture is even tougher,” One of the vets responded.

“Huh,” I said, warning flags beginning to raise in my mind. “What do you mean by that?”

“Well, I mean, someone who.. you know.. fits in. Someone who we all would like to work with and who ‘gets’ us,” he said.

And there is one of the most basic problems in hiring in our industry.

How many times have you gotten an email notice that a candidate was being brought in for interviews and your scheduled time with them was from 3-4pm. You are only told ‘See if you like him. See if he would fit in.”

When someone is told this, what they are actually being told is “see if he’s just like you.”

Don’t believe me? It’s natural. We all tend to like people who are like ourselves. It is because we can easily identify with them. We share similar backgrounds and experiences. We ‘speak the same langauge.’ We have common interests, likes and dislikes so it is only natural that we would feel most comfortable with those people who are just like us. And the converse is true. Someone who doesn’t share a similar background or experiences may, at first, not feel as “comfortable” to work with.

The problem with this is, while it may produce an office where everyone is very comfy working together, it also produces an office that is completely homogeneous. An office of people who are all alike in looks, background and even life experience. So, an office full of young, straight, white, able-bodied men will, unless coached differently, naturally want to hire other young, straight, white, able-bodied men. .. and this is how we end up with offices that are completely non-diverse.

To overcome this we need to stop the practice of, when all things are equal, hiring the candidate who is most ‘like us.” This means we have to train the people who are doing the interviewing on *what exactly* to look for. Skill sets, experience, tools, problem solving. And we need to not even mention the  “do they fit in.”

In short, we have to be willing to hire outside our comfort zone to hire the best, most diverse workforce possible.

It is this way we can begin to build products that reach the broad market we all want to reach.

Published inRandom Musings


  1. I would argue that if the company is already homogenous to the point that there is an “us” to be “just like” then they have already lost the diversity war. At that point even if someone is hired who is different, that person is bound to feel uncomfortable and alienated being the odd one out all the time, and eventually they will probably either leave in frustration or be forced out anyway. I know of only two ways out once a company is at that point: grow so quickly that any earlier culture is destroyed in the flood, or nuke from orbit and start over with new people.

    I think you’ve gotta be thinking about diversity from day one when you hire your first core team. If your first ten employees are all totally different, then the diversity works doubly in your favor when hiring. Suppose a new candidate comes in who is just like ONE of the existing employees. Sure, that one employee will be all “yeah, I like this new hire, they’re awesome, they’re just like me!” but every single other employee will be “man, that interviewee is just like Joe, we already have one of him. NEXT!”

  2. Bryce Bryce

    I’ve had the reverse – “I need to you check this guy over” and it turned out they didn’t have anything resembling the requirements for the position – but someone like them so they were given a shot at an interview.

    Seriously? They just wasted my, the candidates, and HR’s time with this.

    But you’re right. If I had been asked, I probably wouldn’t have hired the VERY outspoken short black gay man that I work with – and it would have seriously been my loss.

  3. Hey Ian,
    I agree.. but usually I’m working with companies that are already in existence and are dealing with the problem of diversity right now.. and they are already NOT diverse. So you’re right.. I’d love to have everyone be able to start with a fresh blank canvas in their workforce, but it’s likely not gonna be that way. What we need to do now is educate people when they ARE hiring to be willing to look outside their comfort zone.

  4. Tim Tim

    One of my best memories about college is the debating we did. Classes at UT were very diverse, and the viewpoints were similarly wide-ranging.

    Today, the forum debates that I see and engage in from time to time are all about different shades of the same color. I mean, if you’re on the Corvette forum, you’re not going to be debating the virtues of Mustangs… Or if you are, you’re going to be fighting a losing war.

    And that attitude, fostered online, extends into the rest of our world. If you spend a lot of your time online, engaging in that sort of narrow debate, be wary! The trap awaits you.

    Get out and talk to people. Find discussions on diversity, as those tend to be (naturally) more diverse. The lens of the computer screen can be so broad that we forget it distorts what we see in it. Don’t forget, and don’t fall into the trap.

  5. @Tim
    Yes, and your example of the person trying to talk about Mustangs on the Corvette forum is exactly what happens with a person who is “different” from everyone else on the team tries to bring up a different point or a point differing from the majority’s in a discussion. They are shouted down, treated with ridicule and derision and, ultimatley, shoved out of the way

    So.. ultimately, not only do we need to HIRE outside our comfort zone, once we get diversity in place, then we need to make sure EVERYONE is trained in communication and respect in regards to the diverse viewpoints.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been laughed at, made fun of and even called horrid names because of my viewpoints on the female audience for games. And now, today, we have the booming social market that is 70% female! 🙂

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