“I’m not a cultural fit. What does that even mean?”
I was listening to a young man explain his frustration with the startup field. I met him at a startup networking event in Roxbury, one of Boston’s most diverse communities. I was sharing with him my passion for increasing diversity in tech when he began delving into his experience of trying to break into the field.
“I tried. I went to all the hot networking events. I joined Startup Institute. I even applied to this company to only be rejected and told that ‘I’m not a cultural fit’. They make you think they’re all about diversity but they’re not. I would go to these places and feel like I don’t belong.”
I responded, ” I understand the feeling of not belonging but as I keep going to events, I’ve noticed that people are receptive and I’m literally telling a whole bunch of white guys to hire black people.”
We both chuckled.
“Well, you’re little and bubbly. I’m a big black guy. Shit, if I saw myself ringing my doorbell, I’d look the other way.”
His perception of himself as a “big black guy” kind of caught me off guard. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Historically oppressed groups are known to internalize stereotypes and implicit bias of themselves.
We both chuckled but though I got his point that his very essence isn’t accepted in society, I was a little disheartened about his perception of himself.
I honestly didn’t realize that he was a “big black guy” until he brought attention to it. That is when I noticed his dark skin, broad shoulders and his height. He probably was around 6’2 and had a stubbled beard. I took note of his relatively strong Roxbury accent and his confident presence. All of this may have contributed to a gruff like appearance.
Simply, he didn’t fit the image of a startup founder. He wasn’t white neither physically or culturally.
He was not a cultural fit because he wasn’t culturally white. Not only did he not look like them, he didn’t speak like them. He didn’t wear the khaki pants. He didn’t laugh at the same jokes. He wasn’t them.
As I continued to talk to him, I sensed that he felt jaded and a bit discouraged from pursuing his passion.
“I think you should still go these events. You shouldn’t give up.” I encouraged.
“I’m working on a few projects, I got this job at Verizon but I’m 33. I’m getting a little too old.”
The struggle. He didn’t fit the race requirement and he was two years away from being boot from the revered 18-35 age group in startups.
It’s stories like these that get me every time and drive me to continually advocate for diversity, inclusion and equity. My hope is that he breaks out of his nihilism and continues to push forward.
If you can relate to this story, feel free to share your experiences of not being a ‘cultural fit.’