Wednesday, November 16, 2016

‘Culture fit’: Excuse to discriminate?

Cynthia M. Parkhill's Bitstrips comic avatar extends her hand to shake hands with another person who is shown from the partial back view. Nearby, three other people are shown on either side of her, also from  a partial back view. While her expression is one of smiling, two cartoon liquid drops of sweat depict the cartoon avatar's nervousness.
Are candidates treated fairly during screenings for ‘culture fit’?
Sponsored posts promoting a guide with behavioral interview questions keep showing up in my Facebook timeline.

These 30 questions are supposed to screen job applicants for various traits — including leadership and adaptability — but “culture fit” receives top emphasis in the sponsored-post advertisement.

“Culture fit” might be a good thing if it gauged honesty or personal integrity, or if, for example, it helped to pair subordinates and managers who value complimentary styles of teamwork or leadership. In cases like this, might not the job applicant also want to screen for “culture fit”? Finding a good match works both ways.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be what “culture fit” is about.

Shanley Kane sums up my concern perfectly in a Fast Company “9-Minute Read,” “Why Your Startup’s Culture is Secretly Awful”:
“People will say ‘not a culture fit’ without having to define what that means. It’s almost this sacred space which lets them uncritically reject people from the company or from the team. On the surface level it tends to mean ‘We just don’t like you. You’re different from us. We don’t want to figure out how to work with you.’ ‘Not a culture fit’ gives us a really easy way to disregard your experience and you as a person.”
The term “culture fit” worries me as someone who survived years of being ostracized in school. When I encounter this term, I think of a person’s worth being judged on the basis of their likability, their ability to make a good impression during the interview rather than how well, or with how much dedication, they will do the job.

It troubles me, this idea that qualified applicants might be derailed by an emphasis on culture fit.

Moreover, as a person with an “invisible” disability, who struggles with unwritten social “norms,” I fear that screening for “culture fit” could too easily result in discrimination. Would that discomfort with small talk that was flagged in a personality assessment also work against me in an interview for culture fit?

I noted with dismay that the screening guide does not define culture fit (aside from what someone might guess about its emphasis from the questions themselves).

More significantly, the guide doesn’t warn about abuses of this candidate-screening technique. If any re-writes are planned for this report, I ask that the guide’s creators please correct this oversight.

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