When is “Hiring for Culture” Discrimination?

There's a great post, Please: Stop “Hiring to Cultural Fit”. Laura Bergells explains the problems of what she sees when people supposedly hire for cultural fit:

  • They consider for personality first
  • They consider tech and business skills second

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you are shaking your head in disbelief. That's not hiring for cultural fit. That's nuts. That's what happens when you don't do a job analysis, when you don't organize your hiring team, and when you actively discriminate against people who are different from you. It's crazy. It's counter to everything I write about in Hiring Geeks That Fit.

How do people get such ideas?

It's easy if you take memes and don't read anything other than 140 characters on Twitter. It's easy if you don't track your hiring data. It's easy if you don't evaluate how your teams are doing or how you as a manager are doing.

When you hire for cultural fit, you make sure that the person has the technical chops to do the job. I recommend you do that and that you understand your culture, so that you know what your culture rewards, what your culture allows people to discuss, and how people treat each other.

If you have someone who has the technical skills, but wants to fight loudly in a team where they are soft-spoken, will that work? Maybe yes, maybe no. You should discuss it. It's not a make or break decision, but a point for discussion. That person might not fit the team immediately, but might learn to fit into the team. Or, you might want to hire the candidate to inject a little excitement into the team.

When you hire people who are just like you, you lose the value of different ideas. And, if you hire people who don't have the technical skills but who fit the culture, well, you know what they say: “A people hire A people. B people hire C people.” You will have proven it.

Laura has a great point. You're not hiring for cultural fit. You're hiring the people you want to, and you now have a label you can blame it on. Don't discriminate against the people you don't feel comfortable with, just because you don't know how to hire. Learn how to hire. Then hire for cultural fit.

5 Replies to “When is “Hiring for Culture” Discrimination?”

  1. Does a “cultural fit” necessarily mean hiring similar/like minded people? I would say no. I once worked for a boss who preached “conflict is healthy” and despised yes men. He WANTED people to disagree and fight it out. A “cultural fit”, to him, would be someone who comes in with a completely different viewpoint.
    I once saw Steven Denning give a keynote in which he said that “diversity defeats intelligence”. I took that to mean hiring for personality was absolutely a priority over skills, because in the long term, diverse teams were better problem solvers.

    1. Neil, No, cultural fit does not have to mean hiring like-minded people. It does mean knowing what your culture is, so you can decide if you want to hire people who argue the same way or not. It’s funny that you bring up this particular example. In Hiring Geeks That Fit, I have precisely this example. Maybe because it occurs so often 🙂

      I can’t speak to what Steve Denning meant. I will say that if you ask me, here’s what I would say as a comment on “diversity defeats intelligence.” You can have two terrific technically talented people. If one of them is the same personality type as the rest of your team, and has a similar background, you may well want to hire the other one. This is assuming both have the same technical capabilities. That’s because the more thought diversity you have, the better problem solving you have. I wrote about this a while back, Hire for Diversity of All Kinds.

      I actually wrote a series about hiring for diversity too. Start here and work backwards: Hiring for Diversity, Pt 4: Hiring Overqualified People.

  2. “and when you actively discriminate against people who are different from you. ”
    Disagree with you – very few people actually actively discriminaye against people different from themselves. That is left to the corporate speak of hiring for culture fit.
    This is why Silicon Valley has a dearth of Hispanics, Blacks and is not very good with women.
    Nothing active about it, they are just hiring for culture fit. Something that has to be actively guarded against. It is real

    1. Hi Thabo. Well, you are certainly entitled to your opinion!

      When I was a hiring manager, I was told, “There are no black engineers.” I promptly hired one.

      I was told, “There are no women engineers.” I asked, “What am I? Chopped liver?” I hired more.

      I find it difficult to believe that Silicon Valley has “dearth” of Hispanics. In California?

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