• HR expert Rachel Bitte says that there’s a potential downside to hiring for culture fit.
• The hiring strategy can lead to a more homogeneous workplace.
• Research also indicates that interviewers sometimes look for “potential friends” rather than qualified candidates.
Hiring for cultural fit sounds innocuous enough.
It makes sense to want to employ people who gel with the culture of your organisation.
“I think companies really have to be careful,” Bitte, who has over 20 years of HR experience working at Apple and Intuit, tells Business Insider. “What do you mean by a ‘fit’ for your company?”
It’s an important question.
It’s easy enough to say that you’re hiring based on certain personality traits that match your organisation’s stated values. But Bitte says that it’s also easy for hiring managers to allow unconscious biases to seep into their definition of “fit.”
“There are unconscious biases around, ‘Hey this person went to the same university that I went to,'” Bitte says. “There’s a gender bias. There can be a race bias or a language barrier.”
Left unchecked, a warped understanding of culture fit could prompt organisations to justify hiring people who look, think, and act just like everyone else in the office.
Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management professor Lauren Rivera’s research found that relatively untrained interviewers often look for “potential friends and ‘playmates’ rather than those with the best work experience or job-relevant skills.”
A potential result is an increasingly homogeneous workforce when it comes to socioeconomic background, race, and gender.
This vague focus on culture fit also typically gives wealthier, more privileged candidates an edge.
Rivera’s findings indicate that, when it comes to “elite professional services” firms, the playing field is usually “skewed in favour of applicants from the most privileged backgrounds.”
For example, Rivera found that recruiters looking to delve into a candidate’s passions are often favourably inclined toward candidates who played “sports that had a strong presence at Ivy League schools as well as pay-to-play club sports,” like lacrosse, squash, and crew, according to the Atlantic.
Such a hiring strategy can also cause a company’s more toxic elements to become entrenched.
If you’re hiring people to fit into what’s actually an unscrupulous, harassment-ridden “bro culture,” odds are you’ll be alienating many prospective employees who don’t fit into the demographic boxes of young, white, and male — or those who simply prefer to work in a more professional environment.
But when you’re dealing with a traditional application process that involves résumés and interviews, it can be difficult to address the issue, according to Bitte.
“We’ve been trained for years to look at someone’s résumé and talk to them,” she says.
Companies like Facebook have also set up unconscious bias training programs to help employees become more aware of potential pitfalls.
When it comes to hiring for culture fit, it’s a good idea to train interviewers to identify and move past their own unconscious biases.
“I’m wondering if that might be the future of where we’re going,” Bitte says. “Companies are starting to play with this idea and what it means to hiring for skills vs. hiring for background.”
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