Diversity and Cultural Fit

We often hear about leaders of companies who avoid the use of assessment tools because they believe that these tools could screen out diverse candidates and could expose their organizations to lawsuits.  Is this true or false?

The answer to that one is, it depends….If you utilize a tool that is not well constructed and tends to score populations or groups differently, then the answer is probably true.  This is why you need to do some diligence before instituting the use of any tools within your talent management systems.  Avoid the use of tools that must be hand-scored or interpreted by an individual, as these may generate rater bias.  Styles inventories are fine for development and team building, but should not be used for selection purposes.  Tests that are easy to fake, such as word inventories (which statement/term is most or least like you) should also be avoided, unless the test documentation can provide high reliability and validity.

Be sure to ask the test provider for the technical report or validation study before introducing any new tool within your company and have that report reviewed by someone familiar with testing to ensure that the findings are sufficient to demonstrate reliability and validity.  Also, ask about disparate impact on protected classes to see what studies have been done and what proof the test provider can offer you that the tool does not discriminate.

The research around the importance of cultural fit could cause companies to put diversity aside in favor of only hiring people who match a particular success model, since these people should have a better chance of success.  When this occurs, it is generally a result of some key factors.

  1. The test being used in fact causes disparate impact as it scores.  If it didn’t, then all people, regardless of gender, race, age, or ethnicity, who demonstrate particular preferences or tendencies will match the core factors for success.
  2. Too much emphasis is being placed upon the results of the test.  This is frequently a problem where training is not consistently offered in how to use test results and how not to use test results.
  3. Avoid the use of a test that produces a Recommendation – Good Match to Position, Poor Match to Position – Recommended or Not Recommended, then you increase the chances that your managers will look at this bottom line first and put aside the information they gathered in interviews or in the work experiences.
  4. Hiring managers don’t really know what factors lead to success in a particular role or position.  They tend to look for and hire people who are more like them, rather than people who demonstrate the core factors for success for a particular role.

Note that we’re talking about core factors for success.  If you want to encourage diversity, stick to the core factors for success and hire people who are motivated by the work and the general milieu of your culture, rather than they possess one or two key traits that you know are common to people in your company.  We once had a client who refused to look at any candidate who didn’t have a score of 50% or higher on Pace/Urgency.  We had to do a good deal of education to show that Pace/Urgency wasn’t the only core factor for success.

Put less emphasis on secondary style factors, and avoid doing as our client above did, unless you are driving change in your culture.  If you need people with more initiative, then look for individuals who possess independence, high energy, a bit more tendency to take risks and who are quite flexible.  These tendencies are all readily measurable in a good personality assessment.  Once your new hires are on the job, however, make sure to manage them as they need to be managed, or they will soon move elsewhere!

If you follow these simple principles, then you will be able to hire a diverse population who are a cultural fit with your organization.  Using good assessment tools isn’t something you need to be afraid of.  Consider Home Depot.  The EEOC recommended that they include such measures to help hiring managers make better hiring decisions on the basis of more objective information, after a suit of discrimination was raised.