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Discrimination Disguised As ‘Culture Fit’ – Are You Guilty?

discrimination culture fit

Crafting the culture of a workplace is a key part of any successful operation, however there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what ‘culture fit’ means and how it should be assessed in prospective hires. Culture fit is becoming a broad and vague umbrella term that businesses can hide under when they don’t have a specific reason to not hire someone, and in this way, organisations can open themselves up to accusations of discrimination.

Firstly, let’s clear up what culture is not.

Culture doesn’t mean finding people with similar personalities. It is not hiring someone who you could be friends with outside of work. Culture is not having everyone in your team interested in football. It is not about gender, age, religion or race – which might sound obvious but it is a common problem that people want to hire others they can ‘play’ with rather than work with, and this inadvertently leads to decisions which potentially disadvantage those of a different gender, age, religion or race.

The incorrect perception of culture is to have an organisation consisting of people who share as many similarities as possible; the idea being that like-minded individuals will get along well with each other. Though this might seem logical, it is counter-productive and can very easily be classified as discrimination.

A company’s culture is made of three things:

  1. Values
  2. Mission/Goals
  3. Priorities

By ensuring that all managers within an organisation understand what culture is comprised of, they are empowered to make hiring decisions based on what is really important.

Values:

Values can be assessed in any candidate through the actions they exhibit. This is where behavioural interviewing becomes crucial – the right questions need to be asked to tease out information of how the candidate dealt with particular real-life situations. From this, an interviewer can determine their core values and assess whether they are aligned with the company’s values. For example, a hiring company might hold honesty as one of their core values. To assess whether prospective hires share this value, the interviewer can ask for examples of a time when they have made a mistake and what they have done about it. This gives insight into whether they were honest about their mistake and whether they took ownership for it.

Mission:

The overall mission of a business must be aligned to the mission or goals of its individual employees. If employees have not bought into the mission of the business, they risk impeding it. If you’re a dynamic start-up business that needs to grow a client base quickly, then you’ll want to hire people with the same drive, energy and ambition. Hiring someone who seeks stability and unchangeable hours would therefore be the wrong choice – for both parties.

Priorities:

Understanding the important priorities of your business is critical to gain insight into your existing culture, and these insights into your existing culture will give you the ability to assess candidates objectively on their culture fit, without falling into the trap of discrimination. These kinds of priorities are how a business puts their core values into practice. They include things like what is the process for decision making? What are the short term goals for the business? What are the longer term goals? How is the businesses strategy going to be put in action?

If culture fit is a high priority in your hiring process, it’s crucial for your culture to be well-defined before you begin hiring new staff.

  • Have a clear understanding of the specific attributes you are looking for and the specific attributes you don’t want in your employees.
  • Try to hire a good mix of different people with the same values, mission and priorities.
  • Be prepared to delve deep into behavioural questions during interviews. It is very easy to make incorrect assumptions when meeting someone for the first time. For example, if someone is soft-spoken, don’t assume it means they are not assertive. Try challenging them on something and see if they back down immediately or assert themselves.
  • Be careful not to make character assumptions based on gender, age, religion, race, personal circumstances or any other factor that could be considered discriminatory. Every individual is unique; strong in some areas, weak in others and always full of surprises. Lumping people into categories without understanding who they are will only hinder your search for good talent.

Remember, diversity benefits a business.  It can help teams make better decisions and bring fresh ideas to the table.