“Cultural Fit” or Discrimination: Who is Right and Who is Wrong?
I am hiring for an enterprise sales executive. I have reviewed dozens of resumes, video interviewed eight candidates, and interviewed in-person four of those. Three of these four candidates are equally qualified and could be a great asset to my organization. Who should I hire?
For some of you scratching your heads I haven’t given you enough information to provide a response. That’s because other than qualifications many of you use your instinct to choose who would best fit into your organization culturally. Perhaps you make this decision based on their personality or maybe you make it based on their appearance. Either way you employ a set of criteria you hope will serve to hire the best fitting employee who will stay the longest.
So on one side you have the cultural fit advocates who believe you can’t hire on qualifications alone. They believe that to ensure exceptional employee performance and retention the job candidate must fit in with the corporate culture and hiring manager’s style. In short you hire the individual with whom you feel you can best get along.
On the other side you have the individuals who believe hiring managers inject too many of their personal biases into the decision making process and use “cultural fit” as an excuse to eliminate qualified candidates they think might challenge them or whom they just don’t like. Their concern is so great that many suggest removing the candidate’s name from the resume so that no determination of gender or ethnicity can be made while the extreme suggest a “revolutionary” process that eliminates the in-person interview all together!
Discrimination is bad, Bad, BAD but we can’t ignore the benefits reaped from the ethical use of cultural fit hiring. Hiring without an in-person interview is dangerous and potentially destructive to the hiring organization.
Advocates of cultural fit believe:
- It increases employee satisfaction
- It increases employee retention and reduces costs of replacing departing employees
- It increases cooperation among employees and managers
Opponents of cultural fit believe:
- It gives hiring managers a “get out of jail free” card to discriminate
- It increases the chances the most qualified candidate isn’t hired
- Increases the chances of mirror image hiring and thus a stagnant environment
So who is right? Both parties are. Hiring for cultural fit can do all the great things the advocates believe. Unfortunately this in turn makes it possible for hiring professionals to abuse the system by using it as an excuse not to hire the black candidate, the overweight candidate or the old female candidate.
Statistics support the continued prevalence of discrimination. The number of workplace discrimination claims filed with the EEOC since 1987 has increased by 51%. Are discrimination laws helping? Apparently not. As one commenter to a Linkedin discussion I started suggested, “Laws don’t stop discrimination…they only let you know what you have to make sure NOT to mention when rejecting someone.” So yes, discrimination is still prevalent and many qualified candidates are getting passed over for those candidates the interviewer “likes” best.
I still agree cultural fit hiring is needed. What we really need to learn is that just because someone is different does not mean that they aren’t a fit. That African American candidate you turned away could have been your best friend. The qualified elderly woman could have been a second grandmother to you and that attractive female candidate you were jealous of might just have turned out to be the most loyal confidant you’ve ever had.
Hiring for cultural fit is necessary but when used as an excuse to eliminate qualified candidates through the fear we may not be able to relate to them is careless and I daresay a little cowardly.