Business leaders and HR managers see culture as a key driver of organisational performance. One of the determinants of culture is which people the business hires, how it integrates them into the organisation and how it supports them in doing their work. But there is a dark side to emphasising cultural fit in hiring decisions—it could perpetuate various forms of bias or discrimination.

HSRG’s blog offers a handy definition of what it means to hire for cultural fit and job fit. “Person-job fit…involves a candidate’s suitability for tasks required to succeed in a specific job. This can include their skills, knowledge levels, and abilities. Meanwhile, person-organisation fit refers to a match between an organisation’s core values and culture and an individual’s beliefs and values.”

It’s easier to be objective about assessing whether someone has the qualifications, experience and skills for a job description than whether they are cultural fit. Different colleagues and team leaders may have different perspectives on what the company’s culture is, as well as which type of person may fit in.

Often, cultural fit will mean “someone similar to me and the other people I work with” rather than someone that brings new perspectives or challenges old assumptions, while still being able to function at an elevated level in the job. The Wall Street Journal quotes this insight from Patty McCord, a human resources consultant in the US: “What most people mean by culture fit is hiring people they’d like to have a beer with.”

As Kellogg Insight notes, when a candidate and an interviewer click, it often means that they share interests or a background, like playing the same sport or coming from the same university. This interpersonal comfort is misinterpreted as a cultural fit. This can lead to companies hiring a lot of people that think and act in similar ways.

It can lead to unconscious biases towards job candidates based on factors such as sexual orientation, religion or social class—even in a country where employment equity and anti-discrimination laws aim to create fair opportunities. It could also prompt organisations to bypass great candidates that could bring new perspectives and diverse cognitive styles to the business.

While an element of organisation/employee fit is important, hirers should ensure that organisational culture doesn’t preclude people on the grounds of personal bias.

Here are some tips from the experts on hiring the right fit without bias:

  • As The Wall Street Journal notes, it’s key to understand what cultural fit is and is not. It’s about shared enthusiasm for the business and working together, not a common background, interpersonal comfort or shared interests.
  • Interact Softwarerecommends that rather than leaving hiring decisions entirely to one or two individuals, companies can create panels with wider representation from different team members to help minimise bias.
  • Kellogg recommends using skills-based screening for candidates before considering organisational fit to eliminate bias.