Beware ‘mirrortocracy’! It pays to think about cultural practices critically and rigorously.

The ugly side of hiring to “cultural fit” is mirrortocracy – the term that Kapor Capital’s Mitch Kapor coined to describe white male founders who hire the people closest to them, ie. other white males. Mirrortocracy happens when “culture” is poorly thought out, and when an affinity for craft beer is mistaken for a shared value.

Shanley Kane argues that an arbitrary company culture often contains the subtext:

We are able to reject qualified, diverse candidates on the grounds that they “aren’t a culture fit” while not having to examine what that means – and it might mean that we’re all white, mostly male, mostly college-educated, mostly young/unmarried, mostly binge drinkers, mostly from a similar work background. We tend to hire within our employees’ friend and social groups. Because everyone is a “great culture fit,” we don’t have to acknowledge employee alienation and friction between individuals or groups.

She also emphasizes the importance of cultural critique, with the example of flat corporate structures – “In places where there is no formal hierarchy, you actually have to pay more attention to power dynamics. This is because power is an aspect of every human interaction, even if you don’t have managers.”

Finally, MemSQL’s Carlos Bueno shares a useful way of rethinking “cultural fit”:

Instead of demanding that others reflect your views, reflect on yourself. Try to remember the last time someone successfully changed your mind. Try, just for a moment, to suppose that it’s probably unnatural for an industry to be so heavily dominated by white and Asian middle-class males under 30 who keep telling each other to only hire their friends. Having supposed that, think about what a just future should look like, and how to get there.

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