Implicit bias - looking beyond 'culture fit' to focus on 'culture add'

By Claire Ellis

Recruiters are match makers: we match an employer’s and employee’s needs and desires. This takes skill as you effectively have two customers and managing both needs can be tricky.

Our roles come down to judgement. We are judging both employers and candidates, and this tension can be challenging; it’s beholden on recruitment professionals to make sure we are being objective and we don’t fall into a bias trap.

Recruiting for culture fit is an area in which implicit bias can creep. Companies are looking for candidates who work well within their environment, but here’s where selecting for culture fit can get sticky. It can sometimes be used as a euphemism for selecting a candidate “just like me”, which is a known and therefore safe option. This is often unconscious; but when candidates with a different race or sex or age are getting deselected, then it’s right to ask if implicit bias is creeping in.

It’s now widely accepted that recruiting for diversity is good for companies and their bottom lines. But if the recruitment process is still selecting “someone like me”, what can we do?

It’s important for recruiters to be consciously aware and actively working against this bias to provide diverse shortlists. We are in the position of influencing our clients to think differently. This approach works well sometimes but we are not the final decision makers - employers are.

NZ is still a country of small to medium businesses and often selection is down to individual managers. This is where you can question your own implicit bias. Employing people who look and feel just like us often impresses like the right culture fit. But the point of diversity is to bring a different outlook, someone who will challenge your beliefs and who might provide robust debate. Surely business decisions that are questioned from a variety of different points of views are the better for it? Diversity is more challenging, but in the end it could be better for your business.