The Perils of Hiring for "Fit" or "Culture"

Posted by Edward Sharkey on Mon, 09/07/2015 - 04:00

Did you ever make an employment decision based on a candidate's "fit" with your culture? Did you ever ask yourself, "Can I see this person here?" Or rely on a gut feeling? Did you ever assess an employee for promotion by thinking, "How well does this person get along with the team? Will they fit with the rest of the leadership?"

Intuitively, this seems like a good idea. Businesses want to foster a workplace where people get along and enjoy working together. Where employees respect their supervisors. Increasingly, however, such hiring criteria are creating legal headaches for businesses.

A female employee recently left her job at Twitter and filed a lawsuit
lawsuit claiming that she was passed over for a promotion on the basis of "fit." The employee claims that Twitter used a promotion process that leaves women at a disadvantage. Twitter allegedly used a "shoulder tap process," where instead of advertising promotion opportunities to all eligible employees, they offered the opportunity to select individuals they thought might be a good fit for the job.

The employee contends the process led to gender discrimination, in that a majority of the leadership positions within the company were held by men. And men have a general tendency to select other men for promotions because they got along with them better. Being a high profile business, Twitter has come in for months of public scrutiny and criticism because of the lawsuit and the demographic makeup of its workforce.

Can businesses still consider "fit" when hiring and promoting employees? I will tell you what we tell clients: every business's risk profile comprises multiple factors, and it falls along a spectrum. If you are Twitter, and you employ a lot of "dudes" in STEM, using "fit" as a hiring criteria is risky. If you are Sam's Local Wholesale Paint Co., and you have a diverse group of employees handling chemicals in an odoriferous warehouse, you can hire whomever fits best with your team.

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