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Saying “No” Because of Cultural Fit: Justified, or Just a Cop-Out?

By May 24, 2018One Comment

I’m a recruiter, therefore I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. Most of that time is mundane and fruitless. Then sometimes, I chance upon posts that pique my interest.

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I first saw this post a month ago. It popped up in my feed and sparked a borderline identity crisis. I’m a huge believer in the importance of positive company culture – for attraction and retention of good people, sure, but more importantly for the simple fact it makes lives better. Like everyone, I’ve worked in places before that had terrible culture, and so can vouch firsthand for the negative impact that has. Morale, productivity, attrition and ultimately profit all suffer, and so I have always trumpeted culture as vital, and done my best to make sure fit is aligned both for the candidate and the client.

But how often is “culture fit” really just code for bias?

Unconscious bias has been a hot topic in employment circles for a long time now, smack bang in the middle of a widespread focus toward Diversity & Inclusion. In layman’s terms, bias is a prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person or group, and can have positive or negative consequences depending on what the bias is and where it is applied. “Bias” sounds instantly negative, with an inherent taboo factor, but the fact is we all respond to everything with bias, and sometimes this works in our favour. Of course, sometimes, it doesn’t.

The above post from Tony Chapman garnered more than 100 comments in quick succession, many heated; many polarised.

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I regard myself as fairly open-minded, just and caring, and so it was with a genuine level of wide-eyed-ness that I turned the lens on myself. As a keen champion of positive company culture, have I accepted that too readily as rejection criteria for candidates I’ve represented? Should I have dug deeper? Have I inadvertently supported discrimination? And if so, how the heck can I avoid doing so in future?

The answer, for me at least, is elaboration. I remain firmly of the belief that positive culture is vital to success, and so the protection and enrichment of culture should be paramount in any recruitment process. However, rejecting people on the basis of “cultural fit” with no further elaboration just doesn’t cut it. If a company culture is strong enough to be hired against, then it should be easy enough to articulate, with specific feedback given around how and why precisely somebody does not fit. If that cannot be given, then my spidey senses tell me it’s a cop-out; a bullshit cover for biased hiring. The Technology sector has copped a lot of heat for this in recent years – there’s a perception that women simply aren’t applying for jobs, hence numbers like Google’s, where women account for only 18% of the technical workforce. However independent research has found that the lack of diversity in tech companies is due to biased hiring practices and not a dearth of talent. After all, if your business is predominantly white, under 30 and male, then you could very easily feel there wasn’t a great “culture fit” when anybody outside that demographic walks through your door.

Where do you stand on the matter?

Natasha Foster

Recruitment Consultant at New Zealand firm Rice Consulting, shaking things up in the HR world. Photographer on the side, Te Reo student, rock climber and learner surfer. Most happy off the grid.

One Comment

  • I agree completely. Age bias is definitely out there. I have 17 years of administrative experience, in better health than most of the people I have had interviews with and have the intelligence to tackle any situation. All they see is my age and unfortunately, my color. Yes I went there. Diversity and Inclusion is just a front for companies to tout when they really do not actively practice diversity and inclusion at all.