Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.

On cultural fit

Yesterday, I posted about sexism in a job ad. But one of the things that concerned me about the ad beyond the sexism is the absurd levels that companies now go to with “culture fit”.

From that ad:

He’ll like comics, will code for fun, probably wear band t-shirts

I’ve seen other job adverts like this that ask for a completely superficial level of cultural sameness.

And it is utter bullshit. What damn difference does it make whether I like comic books or wear band t-shirts? I happen to not do either of those things. Unlike seemingly everyone in hackerdom, I don’t actually like beer. I don’t read comic books (the genre just doesn’t do anything for me). The thought of spending any time in some shithole Shoreditch bar listening to grimy indie rock is utterly unappealing to me. (Similarly, stuffing five pound notes into a young lady’s g-string doesn’t do much for me either.)

Why should this nonsense matter? Why does what I do in my spare time affect my job? If I went into a job interview and they asked whether I go to church or whether I’m single or married or in a long term relationship, that’d be highly inappropriate. Society—and employment law—rightly tells employers that race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, marital status and age are not criteria they can legitimately use to decide on whether to employ someone. But apparently, music and fashion and what types of alcoholic beverage I consume are now things that employers can use to inform their decision making as to whether I would be good slouched in front of Eclipse or TextMate all day banging out code.

Think about it in terms of your superiors at work. I don’t give a fuck whether my manager spends his or her weekends seeing the latest hipster grunge act or dressed to the nines for a night at the opera house. It’s far, far more important that they are competent, capable, sincere, have experience and can enable me to be a better person in my work than the sort of music they listen to, or whether they are into microbrews or read comic books.

What this actually represents is easy to work out: an attempt to hire people just like them—from the same class background, racial/ethnic background and age range, using culture as a proxy. A crude, cynical way of doing discrimination by the backdoor. You don’t want a woman on your team? She doesn’t have cultural fit. Don’t want a middle-aged parent on your team (because, gasp, you might have to pay them well, not require them to do Red Bull-fuelled all-nighters, and let them have time off for little Timmy’s piano recital)? Cultural fit issues. Don’t want black queer men around calling out your racist homophobic brogrammers? Treat ‘em like shit because they don’t “fit” your “culture” (even if your workplace culture is the sort they study in Petri dishes rather than put up in the British Museum).

I’m pretty sure that writing this post means there are now certain cultures I now won’t fit in. Oh well.