I’ve never really struggled fitting into groups or businesses in the past and have certainly never been excluded – until quite recently. As an executive recruiter, I am an expert in identifying and placing professionals into team environments – teams in which they will experience the best mutual ‘fit’. When I selected a new leadership group to join recently, I was very confident with my choice and felt great about what I could contribute to, as well as learn from, the group. I was one of very few women in the group, but that did not faze me one bit – I was convinced it was a great fit!
I’m not sure when I realised I did not fit in – but it was very early on. At first it was a ‘feeling’ and one which I had trouble articulating. Then it was the subtle things, like being talked over or cut off mid-sentence and, as time went on, it became more apparent I was being excluded from conversations and not engaged with as an equal. The group had been together for quite some years and was dominated by a handful of alphas who led the conversation’s flow and direction. Instead of politely exiting the group and finding a new one, I decided to try to fit in. On reflection it was quite embarrassing really, because I tried SO hard that it’s cringe-worthy now I think back! I went out late night drinking, discussed cricket (!) and engaged in activities which did not normally interest me such as gambling.
The more I tried, the worse I felt
Considering I am in the business of D&I and culture-based recruitment, the irony is not lost on me that I was on the wrong side of inclusion and in an environment that was not bringing the best out in me. In fact, over time I found myself altering my behaviour in a number of ways such as:
Acting unnaturally in circumstances I would otherwise feel comfortable;
Doubting my actions;
Doubting my gut instincts/emotions;
Lacking confidence about my self-worth and merit to be in the group.
I was a minority in the group in terms of my gender, age and beliefs. I was initially asked to join this particular group to bring diversity of thought, emotional intelligence and to challenge the status quo; however, the group did not reshape, cater for or seem to welcome the diversity. I do not feel this was intentional but just a result of an established group working together for many years. I also acknowledge that because I was different to most of the people in the group it was ‘harder’ to engage with me versus their friend/confidant who they had known for years. Instead of calling it out early I persisted, trying many different approaches and tactics to fit in over a 12-month period.
Hindsight is wonderful and if I had my time again I would have:
Called out the ‘feeling’ of exclusion much earlier;
Followed my instinct of not fitting in and moved to another group sooner;
Tried less! The effort it took to fit in was significant and one which took its toll on me;
Shared my concerns with the other people in the group who were in the minority.
I have learnt so much from this experience and feel I have far more empathy for my Product, Marketing & Digital executives when they share with me their thoughts on not ‘fitting in’ and being ‘excluded’. When asked about inclusion and what it means I always refer to being invited to a party and not being asked to dance! I am grateful for the experience in many ways and feel like it was a situation I had to experience first-hand to make me better at my job!
Victoria Butt is the Managing Director and Founder of Parity Consulting, recruitment experts in Product, Marketing, Communications and Digital – creating parity by investing in ALL relationships. An avid shark diver and lover of wine, professionally Victoria’s passionate about leadership, inclusion and diversity in the workplace and empowering women, in particular women looking to return to work after having children.
For a confidential discussion, Victoria can be contacted via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone +61 402 418 326