Accidentally Diverse: How hiring for culture resulted in a highly diverse team

By Zainab Al-anbuky, Head of Talent at Figured

It’s ice-cream Thursday and we’re all sitting around the beanbags geeking out to a Rubik’s Cube-off between Rudi and Rodrigo, followed by a sesh on what’s happening around the business. I’m staring around the room with a great sense of pride. That sense that comes from knowing just how hard it has been attracting and selecting each member of this great team; the days of LinkedIn stalking and the endless interviews that often left me wondering if this person even exists.

It also dawned on me when looking around the room just how fantastically diverse our team is – the mix of genders, ages, nationalities – you name it! Only the thing is, we never intentionally tackled diversity as part of our hiring strategy, it kinda just happened!

Like most startups, we didn’t always get the hiring thing right. At some stage early on, we reflected that our “mis-matched” hires had something in common; it wasn’t so much their skills to do the job, it was almost always due to them not being “culturally fit”. But what does that actually mean? And is it just a vague cop out when you don’t like someone? Or dare I say, a mask for prejudice against those that just don’t fit-in socially?

As we got tighter on recruitment we needed to look within and really figure out Figured, our values and that secret sauce that makes this fast paced tech startup really hum, those things we need for someone to be “culturally fit”. And as we started to unravel it all, it became clear that we needed people to share our passion for what we’re doing, to have curiosity and hunger in their blood, to be brave and resilient and flexible in their thinking, and most of all to be able to LOL at themselves at least 100 times a day. All of a sudden this freed us from any limitations with gender, nationality, religious orientation and age etc, because this wasn’t about bringing a group of BFF’s together, it was about intrinsic motivators, skill and outlook on life.

Culture is by no means static, especially for a young business. We meet and bring in new people that surprise and delight us with their ways and outlook on things and, as a result, we will continue to evolve. This is an ongoing process of reflecting on what differentiates us and what are those critical values that we just can’t live without, but equally it’s about seeing beyond what fits right now to what are the potential cultural add-ons each person can bring.

I remember a quote I saw years ago that says “It’s the differences that attract us to one another but it’s our similarities that keep us together”. I’d like to think of the diversity as the thing that attracted us to one another, the thing that challenges us, pushes us, those healthy conflicts and the lean experiments that we run that result in growth and innovation. There is no question in my mind about the ties between diversity and business growth but equally you must balance this out with having a cohesive team that enjoy working and collaborating together and that’s where those similarities, or our secret sauce, comes in handy.

At Figured, we have made a conscious effort to ensure whoever we bring onboard will have a cultural fit first and foremost, regardless of how alluring their technical skills might be in these skill-starved times. As a company it is more important that we bring people together that share our values, rather than just ticking off the list of hard skills.

It’s not everyday that you hear cultural fitness and diversity in one sentence. Normally when you hire for cultural fitness you would get a level of sameness that doesn’t leave a lot of room for diversity, to me that’s a recipe for disaster for a high tech startup, or any business for that sake. So, my advice is, identify what culturally fit means to you, be open to what cultural contribution people can bring and be brave and disciplined in walking away when people don’t fit those. Your business will love you for it in the long run.