Apr 172014

Continuing the exploration of interviewing for “cultural fit” as a form of illegal employment discrimination, today’s post looks at one of the less obvious categories of discrimination created by this hiring trend: discrimination against applicants with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Employers are already cautious about actions that tend to harm larger classes of applicants, women and racial minorities. I’ll touch on the impact of “cultural fit” interviews on those groups later, but for now you can get a taste here and here.

How could “cultural fit” interviews inappropriately impact the employment opportunities for autistic applicants?

Under the most nefarious yet common definition of “cultural fit,” candidates must be able form a nascent personal bond with the interviewer(s) during the course of a short, one-time meeting. The criteria focuses not an applicant’s ability to do the actual job, but meeting the interviewer’s preference for “hiring someone they feel comfortable with and would like to hang out with.”

This kind of “cultural fit” standard would likely have a discriminatory effect against qualified autistic applicants. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s revised DSM-5 revised standards:

People with ASD tend to have communication deficits, such as responding inappropriately in conversations, misreading nonverbal interactions, or having difficulty building friendships appropriate to their age. In addition, people with ASD may be overly dependent on routines, highly sensitive to changes in their environment, or intensely focused on inappropriate items. Again, the symptoms of people with ASD will fall on a continuum, with some individuals showing mild symptoms and others having much more severe symptoms.

Even high functioning people with autism have difficulty making the kinds of social connections, a skill necessary for demonstrating so-called “cultural fit,” and doing so in a short one-off interview would certainly prove extremely difficult.  The spread of this kind of “cultural fit” interviewing will have the effect of blocking people with ASD from employment opportunities, despite their ability to meet actual job requirements.

Diagnoses of ASD have increased significantly.  In 2000, the rate was about 1 in 150 kids.  By 2008, it reached about 1 in 88.  So a growing number of people could be shut out from the opportunity to work to their full potential by employers insisting on discriminatory forms of “cultural fit” interviews.

Do Autistic applicants have any protection?

People with ASD are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which does provide some protection against employment discrimination, including at the interview stage.

The justification of this protection is deftly outlined in the appendix of Section 1630:

The purpose of this provision is to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not excluded from job opportunities unless they are actually unable to do the job. It is to ensure that there is a fit between job criteria and an applicant’s (or employee’s) actual ability to do the job. Accordingly, job criteria that even unintentionally screen out, or tend to screen out, an individual with a disability or a class of individuals with disabilities because of their disability may not be used unless the employer demonstrates that those criteria, as used by the employer, are job related for the position to which they are being applied and are consistent with business necessity. [emphasis added]

Interviewing for “cultural fit” is a standard that screens out people with disabilities.  The employer now has the burden of showing that it is job related and consistent with business necessity.  That seems like a high standard to meet in order to take advantage of the exception.   Another post will be necessary to show how courts have interpreted this language, and how it could be used to combat employment discrimination from “cultural fit” interviews.  Stay tuned for Part II.

Cultural Fit


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Apr 102014

“White privilege” is a one of the lenses people use to interpret continuing truths about racial inequality.  This is not an argument about whether “white privilege” exists, but whether using a “white privilege” argument does more harm than good toward the greater goal of promoting racial justice.

Read “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” by Peggy MacIntosh, and this to get a sense for how disparate and unjust experiences can be interpreted as “White Privilege.”

One could spin any aspect of inequality as granting a “privilege.” Almost everyone who complains about “white privilege” needs to, in fairness, reflect about their own unearned “height privilege.” After all, you can reach items on the top shelf at the supermarket without having to ask for assistance or bring your own. Do your feelings about being accused of unfairly benefiting from your height privilege make you more or less likely to work (harder) for the rights of little people?

Not suffering some wrong because of race is a benefit, and it is a good that people have without earning it. I’m sure whoever came up with the “white privilege” meme is very clever and proud that their idea has really caught on. It is one way to interpret reality, but it is counterproductive to actually making progress on racial justice. Growing a movement toward equality is slowed by complaining about and scolding people using the term “white privilege.”

The usefulness of the “White privilege” argument is limited at best because:

  1. It will not convince whites who are not already persuaded by the self-evident morality of racial equality; and
  2. It may stoke the flame of resentment in nonwhites toward those undeserving “privileged” whites, hurting their ability to work together.
  3. It is a flawed, if not seriously skewed lens through which to view the larger issue.

Spouting “white privilege” will not gain more white supporters of the anti-racist agenda. Do you really think those whites who are not already convinced of the inherent immorality of racism, will suddenly experience a racial epiphany when told about their unearned “white privilege?”  Such arguments may alienate persuadable white people who are barely convinced of the rightness of supporting efforts to end racial inequality.  Perhaps their thought process is, “I agree that everyone should be treated fairly, but calling out my ‘white privilege’ makes me feel like you think I’m a racist villain.  I’m upset by this implied assault on my character and feel less comfortable and motivated to actively work for the greater cause of racial equality.  I’ll just root for you quietly on the sidelines, rather than risk having my character attacked when I show up and get involved.”

Besides failing to convert white people to the cause, “white privilege” theory affects nonwhites’ efficacy in the anti-racism movement.  “White privilege” arguments may antagonize rightly aggrieved racial minorities to resent all white people who enjoy such “privilege,” including anti-racist white allies.  This anger is misdirected toward all undeserving “privileged” white people instead of at the injustices at which their efforts should be targeted. Will this make it easier or harder to work shoulder-to-shoulder with those enlightened white people for the cause of racial equality?

“White privilege” is a flawed lens for understanding the continuing existence of racial discrimination and inequality.  The crux of the theory is treating an absence of a negative as a positive.  Suffering the injustice is the normal point; not suffering means you are getting some kind of extra benefit.  For instance, yesterday I was not hit by a bus.  Therefore, I am privileged in relation to people that were.  Should we cast our mission as working to fight bus-dodger privilege or should we look for solutions that increase bus-pedestrian safety?

The “white privilege” theory perspective paints experiencing mistreatment as normal and being treated fairly as an unearned gift.  Maybe part of that is not trying to live your life as a “victim,” but such a backward perspective robs the problem of racial inequality and discrimination of the serious attention that it deserves.

Finally, a lot of people are saying “white privilege” when they mean “racial inequality.” For a quick taste, peruse its use on Twitter here.  I guess it makes them sound smarter (since using the term is also sometimes code for “I went to college”), but it is not a smart strategy for the progress of racial equality.  It’s a shortcut used to put people down when you feel wronged, but it may be at least marginally counterproductive to actually solving the problem.

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Apr 032014

This post takes an important aside in the series examining how interviewing for “cultural fit” can be a form of illegal employment discrimination.  There seems to be a few different concepts of “cultural fit” floating around the business world.  One version is quite benign, while the others are breeding ground for discriminatory hiring.  Since culture fit means different things to different people, let’s see if we can clarify the debate by unpacking the term.

  • Professional Cultural Fit focuses on business values & philosophy, management style, and work ethic.  This is the least harmful definition of “culture fit.”  This business culture fit is more likely to be directly tied to job performance and is the most acceptable form of “cultural fit.” It is about how you and the business like to work, not about who you are as a private person.

  • Ethnic Cultural Fit focuses on how an applicant’s ethnic heritage matches the ethnicity of the current staff. When some people hear “culture,” this is what immediately springs to mind, the more anthropological definition.  Hiring based on ethnic cultural fit can be the most stupid and blatant form of discrimination.

  • Personal Cultural Fit focuses on trying to hire a new best friend. The personal “cultural fit” hiring criteria shifts from “who is the most qualified to do the actual job?” to “which candidate will be more popular with the interviewer and current staff?”  Personal cultural fit examines personal characteristics outside of job performance:  a candidate’s leisure time activities (hobbies & interests, etc.), their personal charisma, and their skill at quickly establishing rapport with the interviewer and other employees.  Interviewing for personal cultural fit can be discriminatory against certain groups. It is more about who you are than about how you work.

That there are different versions of “cultural fit” leads to some confusion.  Here are some examples of people applying to using the different definitions:

Brad Field writes: “Your company values should be clear, accessible, and pervasive – take, for example, Zappos’ 10 core values. Having clearly defined values is important because they drive your company culture, not the other way around. It’s also important when you’re hiring for cultural fit, because without clear company values you run the risk of making poor hiring decisions: hiring people because they look or act or talk like you, and not hiring people because they don’t.” That’s a nice distinction between professional and personal cultural fit. He should just be sure to reiterate that whenever he writes about cultural fit (lest he give cover to users of the more nefarious definition).

One writer, albeit discussing the issue in Canada, reframes culture fit as an applicant’s soft skills.

[Newcomers] are further surprised when they are told they are not the right fit, they don’t have Canadian experience or they lack the soft skills required for the job ­— three different ways of saying the same thing: “you don’t behave the way we want you to behave.”

“A large number of new immigrants find many challenges when it comes to finding employment. And once they go through the interview process, they are often informed that they do not have Canadian work experience. What the employer often is telling them indirectly is that they are lacking in ‘soft skills,’” according to Vancouver-based, Indian-born Gobinder Gill, broadcaster, diversity trainer and author of Achieving Prosperity through Diversity.

“To put it in another way, the hiring person is asking themselves ‘Will this new person fit in the company’s working environment?’ After all, the employer is not only seeking jobs skills, but also inner qualities that will make the applicant a great team player.”

Gill goes on to give “small talk” as an example of a soft skill that immigrants lack. “These conversations could consist of speaking about the latest in sports, upcoming public events, etc. One of the reasons many new immigrants lack such soft skills is because they are unfamiliar with the Canadian culture’s day-to-day happenings.”

Here cultural fit requires almost complete ethnic assimilation before one can be worthy of a job that you are already qualified for. This is clearly a case of interviewing for ethnic cultural fit.

A lot of HR advice about “cultural fit” is cautious, for example, explaining that a candidate’s particular interests suggest other qualities that are a match for the company’s idea of professional cultural fit. Others are not so cautious in promoting the personal cultural fit approach:

Many managers have probably experienced the discomfort of having one or two people on staff who just don’t get along with others in the organization. Such a situation can be a drag on productivity and morale. It is not always possible to genuinely like everyone you work with, but it can make a big difference in the workplace if most people enjoy each others’ company. When interacting with job candidates, one good way to test for this “likeability index” is something we call the airport test. Imagine that you are traveling for work with the candidate and you discover your flight is delayed. How do you feel about being “stuck” with this person for two-plus hours in an airport with not much else to do? Can you imagine being happy about this, neutral, or do you think you’ll dread it? Just asking this simple question can help clarify how you really feel about a candidate and his or her fit with your organization’s culture!

This kind of thinking subject a set of interviewees to a popularity contest. The highly subjective nature of this personal cultural fit is fertile grounds for unlawful discrimination. Such employers should not be able to hide behind vaguely defined “cultural fit” standard. Commentators, usually innocently promote this by not making a clear distinction between professional, ethnic, and personal “cultural fit.”

Cultural Fit

For further reading on how people deploy different meanings of “cultural fit,” see

On professional cultural fit:





On personal cultural fit:


On the dangers of cultural fit interviewing, see also:



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Mar 312014

Rankings for Opening Day 2014

Baseball is back following its banishment of winter back to hell for another half year. Yes, baseball did it! If some people think men rode dinosaurs, then baseball surely can defeat winter. Jack Frost has been bludgeoned to death by a Louisville Slugger. (UNSPOILER ALERT: Alternate ending to Disney’s “Frozen”)

I’ve divided the rankings in to 4 tiers of teams. The “Elite” are the best of the best right now. The “Contenders” are in the thick of the pennant race. Those in the “Meh-zo-sphere” cling to dreams of playing relevant September baseball, and once mathematically eliminated are shooting for .500. The “Suh-diddly-uckleheads” are already looking forward to October golfing.


Rank Record Team Rise/Fall
The Elite
Los Angeles Dodgers
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Oakland A’s
St. Louis Cardinals
The Contenders
Texas Rangers
Pittsburgh Pirates
Detroit Tigers
Atlanta Braves
Baltimore Orioles
The Meh-zo-sphere
Cincinnati Reds
Cleveland Indians
Tampa Bay Rays
Los Angeles Angels
Washington Nationals
Arizona Diamondbacks
Kansas City Royals
Colorado Rockies
Philadelphia Phillies
Toronto Blue Jays
New York Mets
Seattle Mariners
San Francisco Giants
San Diego Padres
Minnesota Twins
The Suh-diddly-uckleheads
Milwaukee Brewers
Chicago Cubs
Chicago White Sox
Miami Marlins
Houston Astros
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