IS “CULTURAL FIT” CODE FOR “CULTURAL BIAS?”

By July 20, 2015 September 18th, 2015 Blog

An often used hiring term is “cultural fit.” Basically cultural fit is the likelihood that a candidate will be able to conform and adapt to the core values and collective behaviors that make up an organization – whatever those might be.

In a lot of instances hiring managers are instructed and trained by human resources professionals and recruiters to not just hire the best and brightest, but also make sure that person is a “good fit” for the team, department and organization.

But is all the talk and hiring centered around cultural fit just code used to protect hiring biases within an organization?

Many talent management experts are starting to voice their opinion that it is. They stress that cultural fit has gone “rogue” and now sounds more like “country club” talk than an actual hiring strategy.

The Knowledge Blog at the Wharton School of Business has published a great piecethat exposes a few of these “rogue” practices.

Katherine Klein, vice dean of the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, has this quote in the piece. 

“It is an incredibly vague term, and it’s a vague term often based on gut instinct. The biggest problem is that while we invoke cultural fit as a reason to hire someone, it is far more common to use it to not hire someone. People can’t tell you what aspect of the culture they are worried about.”

If this is the case, then the art of hiring may not have come as far as we like to think it has. 

A recent study by the firm Cubiks indicates that over 80 percent of organizations think measuring cultural fit is important and over 50 percent said that their organization has a clear definition of its culture. And having stated that, the same employers then shared with the study that 59 percent of them have rejected candidates based on their lack of cultural fit.

The key to cultural fit seems to be why candidates are being accepted or rejected.

Lauren A. Rivera recently wrote in the New York Times about what her group – Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management – had found,

When done carefully, selecting new workers this way can make organizations more productive and profitable. But cultural fit has morphed into a far more nebulous and potentially dangerous concept. It has shifted from systematic analysis of who will thrive in a given workplace to snap judgments by managers about who they’d rather hang out with. In the process, fit has become a catchall used to justify hiring people who are similar to decision makers and rejecting people who are not.”

We should all be able to agree that being able to “hang-out” with a candidates is a plus, but perhaps organizations should make sure candidates can do the job first before assessing if they are a “cool kid.”

That is cultural bias not cultural fit.

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