MRI of a monocultured workplace

If you think about your workplace and the types of people in it, what would you say about it? Are the people very results-driven or people-focused? Is it competitive and stressed, or relaxed and collaborative? What are the people like themselves? Do you find you have a lot in common?

In the top tiers of Fortune 500 companies, the hiring process tends to focus strongly on finding the ‘right types’ of employee using psychometric tests. These are designed to assess an individual’s cognitive abilities relative to others in a population.

Modern day intelligence tests were originally developed in 1905 by Frenchman Albert Binet to ascertain the intellectual incapacities of children using a mental age (or MA). This concept was further developed by Lewis Terman from Stanford University in 1916 where he created a formula for Intelligence Quota (IQ), which he felt indicated a wider intelligence capacity:

IQ = mental age divided by chronological age, x 100

Major corporations are fairly renowned for their hiring processes using various forms of psychometric testing during rounds of interviews which include character assessments, cognitive ability tests and general knowledge questions designed to whittle you down/test your mettle.

But once inside,  the discoveries can be quite surreal; people like you are everywhere with the same level of education, range of life experiences, tastes in culture, same number of extra-curricular activities… subtle similarities that you can’t quite put a finger on except to say ‘I feel like I’ve known you for a long time!’

There are obvious benefits to a cohesive workplace and having a lot in common; some major corporations favour social equality and champion environmental issues.

But then there are other kinds of powerful companies (talking here about a specific, household name, global investment bank) who looks for, and only looks for, the type ‘A’ employee: the ones who when asked ‘would you do whatever it takes to win at the cost of others?’ answers, unhesitatingly, ‘yes’. Unsurprisingly, the culture created is aggressive, ego-driven and, dare it be said, male-dominated.

There is also some concern that psychometric tests can be prone to cultural and racial biases. Indeed it is a practice of exclusion. The tests tend to favour the white, middle class; not only do white people tend to outperform most other ethnic groups, but also IQ is associated with social class (Williams & Ceci in ‘Psychology’, Burton, Westen and Kowlaski, 2009).

So are the modern hiring machine at these top corporations creating types of monocultures? And how do we feel if these companies seek to create workforces who think alike, breathe alike, act like. In line with company policy. Together.

A super race? Or super, super boring?