In a world where diversity, equity, and inclusion are getting more airtime, the phrase “not a good fit” continues to echo in the halls of workplaces and interview rooms, often leaving employees and candidates questioning its true meaning. As an individual who has grappled with the intricate notion of belonging throughout my life, delving into the true essence of these words—what it truly means to "fit"—has become a personal journey of self-discovery.
Growing up in a vibrant yet challenging neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, I found myself seeking to find my feet in three distinct cultures. Born to an African-American mother, and a Dominican and Haitian father, I was a living amalgamation of ethnicities. However, due to circumstances beyond my influence, my bond with my Caribbean heritage remained regrettably incomplete. The sense of not quite belonging became a recurring feeling, as my outward appearance frequently resulted in exclusion within my Latin American peer circle.
The challenge of fitting in and belonging persisted into adulthood, where I confronted the complexities of being a first-generation college student. Venturing into Manhattan for the first time after 18 years of life in New York City, I found myself surrounded by diverse peers from various corners of the globe and socio-economic tiers. This immersion magnified my struggles with impostor syndrome. However, amidst these challenges, I was gradually piecing together my understanding of what it meant to “fit.”
I forged a path towards self-discovery in the quest to “fit.” Introspection revealed my core values, teaching me authenticity, appreciation for diversity, and the need for boundaries. Resilience grew from setbacks, while seeking guidance offered validation. I redefined belonging as alignment with my true self rather than conformity, allowing me to make more mindful choices about the spaces I occupy. This odyssey deepened my self-connection and sense of place in the world.
Throughout my professional journey, the term “fit” seemed to dance just beyond my grasp. As an active participant in numerous interviews for a variety of roles, I became all too familiar with its elusive nature. Countless times, I heard phrases like “not a good fit for the team,” leaving me wondering: What exactly does “fit” mean?
In my perspective, the term “fit” often functions as a nebulous catchall phrase, disguising deeper considerations. Imagine if we replaced “not a good fit for” with “do not belong in.” Suddenly, the gravity of the term becomes clearer. The impact on professionals of color is acutely significant, accentuating implicit biases, stereotypes, and microaggressions often faced by individuals of color. It also reinforces feelings of exclusion, perpetuates underrepresentation, and places undue pressure on conforming to mainstream norms. With my personal history of yearning for acceptance, I embarked on a mission to unpack this concept and advocate for meaningful change.
In a time marked by heightened awareness of social inequities and waves of industry-wide layoffs, the urgency to inspect workplace “fit” becomes palpable. This urgency is shared across professionals of all roles, whether in management or not. While there is no one-size-fits-all proposal to unravel “fit,” my strategy has been to start with curiosity. This is helpful in initiating open conversations about the term's implications without accusatory undertones.
Encouraging an atmosphere of curiosity not only sets the tone for transparency but also aligns with your responsibility to create inclusive environments. By inviting dialogue about “fit,” you empower team members to express their perspectives on how this concept relates to their sense of belonging. This approach can lead to a more harmonious integration of diverse talents and backgrounds, enhancing overall team cohesion.
Embracing curiosity can empower you to engage with management in meaningful discussions about “fit.” An example of a curious question is, “How does the company define ‘fit?’” This action allows you to gain perspective and contribute your insights into how “fit” impacts your feelings of belonging within the organization. Sharing your experiences and viewpoints can steer management toward more inclusive policies and practices that recognize the multifaceted nature of belonging.
As an advocate for change, I’ve channeled my passion into my executive coaching service. Through my work, I guide individuals in navigating complex situations, particularly in the realms of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. My clients find value in optimizing their performance while honoring their humanity. It’s important to recognize that the inclination to label others as “not a fit” often stems from unconscious biases. This is where deep work lies.
"Fit" (or lack thereof) stands as a pivotal yet obscure force within both personal and professional journeys. My journey has led me to shed light on the subtle biases embedded within the term, particularly impacting underrepresented individuals, and beckons for a new narrative. By fostering open conversations and infusing curiosity into our interactions, we can advance the discussion about these barriers and usher in workplaces that truly celebrate diversity. As I continue to engage as an agent of change, I extend an invitation to all to embark on this collective journey, where the pursuit of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging transcends rhetoric and becomes an actionable commitment.