Sky’s D&I boss: hire for culture add, not culture fit

Too many businesses look for a good culture fit when they recruit, says Sky’s group director of diversity and inclusion, but that can tilt a balanced representation

Managers are often steered to recruit for a good culture fit, on the basis that hiring people who hold the same values as others in the organisation leads to stronger teams and a positive working environment. 

But this isn’t always the right approach, according to Sky director of diversity and inclusion David Carrigan. He thinks that good organisations should instead “seek culture add, not a culture fit”. 

“Organisations work hard to understand the dynamics of individuals in teams, running psychometric and personality tests and spending a lot of time looking inwardly. But what they don’t always do is look at what they don’t have,” Carrigan says.

“At Sky, we don’t talk about being a ‘Sky person’ because what does that mean? Always think of yourself as adding to a culture or organisation because that is the real benefit of diversity.”

Hiring for a culture fit can lead to organisations where everyone simply has the same opinions. “There can be tremendous diversity in the room but their life experiences might be similar,” Carrigan observes. “Recruiters, managers and business leaders need to understand that a team is not a family, a team needs different strengths.” 

But Carrigan claims that when companies do hire on that basis, people who are from different backgrounds to the majority might feel pressure to conform to the norm. This can create problems for businesses. “If a person can’t be authentic, they’re less likely to share their ideas,” he says. “That doesn’t work for a business which thrives on creativity and innovation. And different opinions and some healthy tension within teams are how you create.”

Sky’s diversity targets

Sky has set its own ethnic diversity goals, aiming for 20% of its 31,000 employees to be from a Black, Asian or minority-ethnic background by 2025 and for at least 5% to be Black. These same targets are replicated across its leadership team.

According to its 2021 report, 17% of Sky UK and Ireland’s employees are from a Black, Asian or minority-ethnic background and 3% are Black. 

“We know we’re not as representative as we would like to be. That’s why we set these targets,” Carrigan says. “We’re on track to hit the target by 2025 but we can never be complacent. It’s always going to be a work in progress.”

You need different opinions and some healthy tension in teams to create and innovate

To achieve these representation goals, Sky has pledged £30m of investment in diversity and inclusion, adjusted its recruitment strategies and encouraged individual teams to find ways to improve representation. Large organisations can focus too heavily on the macro, according to Carrigan. “Sometimes you can solve inclusion issues within a team,” he says.

Recruiters are now encouraged to “look at talent in its widest possible sense”. This means that transferable skills can be considered just as valuable as previous experience, to encourage hiring from outside the media sector. 

How to test talent for culture add

The company is also looking at new ways to assess talent, beyond the traditional interview, and is exploring the use of AI in the recruitment process. Carrigan explains that the AI effectively “holds a mirror up” to the hiring manager to check that people who have the right transferable skills aren’t overlooked.

Asked about the risk of racial bias in AI systems, he says: “We’re very confident that AI won’t create any bias but that’s because it’s not the only way we assess talent – it’s part of the process.”

One of the challenges facing Sky is its low attrition rate in some of its most desirable and well-paid positions in front of the cameras on Sky Sports and Sky News. “If you want to work in news or sports, Sky’s at the top of the pile so people don’t often leave those roles,” Carrigan explains. “What we have to do is create the pipeline of talent to get people ready for promotion. It’s not just about what we do externally. It’s also about recognising the talent we already have.”

Improving representation among Sky’s commissioners has also been an important change. These individuals are responsible for deciding the content that goes out on its channels  – currently, all six of its genre heads are white

To address the lack of representation in these roles, Sky set up its Assistant Commissioner programme – a two-year, fully paid role aimed at attracting creatives from “outside the traditional commissioning pool”.

Carrigan says: “Commissioners have a huge amount of influence over the content we put out and we recognise that having diverse people with diverse perspectives in those roles is critical to our representation.”

The media company is also putting pressure on its supply chains to ensure that the companies it works with match its diversity and inclusion goals. “We recognise that we have a huge amount of influence. We’re beamed into people’s homes and we’re a huge buyer of services,” Carrigan says. “We have a large number of supply relationships and we want to make sure they’re all aligned to our business ethically.”

Ultimately, Carrigan thinks that supporting diversity and inclusion efforts is part of being a ”good corporate citizen”. Although he recognises that Sky still has work to do in this area, its work so far has laid good foundations.