The complexity of corporate cultural fit

by | Feb 22, 2012

Hi Dorothy - I have recently been turned down for a senior global business development position where I was one of the final 2 candidates who went through a rigorous process, including testing and pursuit of references. I asked for feedback from the headhunter who told me that it was about minimal skill set differences between candidates which finally counted, but she also referenced a better cultural fit. The position involved international relocation so there was a discussion about possible family repatriation, including the requirement of school fees in the package. I have been divorced 3 times, but had children with my third husband. He is a headmaster, so the kids are with him Monday to Friday, because they attend his school. Although nothing was said, I just sensed when we were discussing this part of the process with the VP HR (female), a certain coolness setting in and change in attitude and that I was discriminated against because of my personal circumstances. My sector is not huge and I found out afterwards that even though I have more experience, the successful candidate was male, married, with a family. This would never happen to a man . Angelina

Hi Angelina - thanks for your mail. This is indeed complex.

Corporate culture and cultural fit is hard to define and varies from one organisation to another. It involves clearly stated organisational values, very often found in their web site mission statements. But perhaps more significantly, it  also touches upon an infinite number of intangibles and unwritten value codes which are hard to pin point and decipher.  Hiring managers are human beings with a range of personal opinions and values, which even subconsciously impact the hiring process. One person's confident is another's arrogant. Leadership, decision- making and communication styles, as well conflict resolution skills all come under the microscope. Age demographics play a role as do religious and cultural perceptions. Sometimes these can be superficially ascertained by researching the senior management and whoever is involved in the hiring process. What do people say about them in your network which you mention is not huge? Do they leave any clues via professional online profiles or other social media or in the press?  Why did you think the fit would be good?

On one point I would tend to agree is that men whose ex wives have custody of their children Monday-Friday would not generally be perceived in a negative way. In fact this might even be seen as an asset. I have also been involved in expatriate transfers where accommodation for child visits in the school vacations has been factored in because of budgetary impact (flights, larger housing etc) either for a single man transferring, or with a new family.  It is also very common for children to go to boarding schools in their passport country to avoid disruption to their academic progress.

Whether discrimination happened in your case as a mother who was willing to relocate, it's impossible to say. If your sector is quite small, your personal circumstances might be public knowledge,  or perhaps you declared them openly as you did to me. The fact you weren't cut earlier in what seems to have been a thorough and therefore expensive process, would suggest they may not have been critical factors.  I have known male candidates with multiple divorces rejected because of the personal values of the hiring managers.   They were family run and owned business

Expatriate appointments are never straightforward. Some companies prefer to re-locate single people because of cost and also because the success of the transfer might hinge on the partner and children relocating successfully. This is especially true where high levels of employee travel are involved, leaving the family isolated in a new country. Others favour family units which they perceive rightly or wrongly, to provide an anchor for the transition.

If you haven't already received it, most companies will give more detailed de-briefing from any testing procedures carried out. This might provide some useful insights as to what type of organisation you should be targeting your next application. It might also be a useful investment to go through a testing process yourself (MBTI for example) that may also provide some answers for the future.

I would focus more on not on what didn't work in this particular instance - but what strategy do I need to move forward to be successful next time.

Good luck!

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she joins the dots between organisations, individuals, opportunity and success.
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