Inclusion, parity and diversity have been popular topics of workplace discourse in recent times. Issues such as gender, race, religion, and cultural diversity have led this conversation. But are these the only factors that create disparity at a workplace? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. Personality types also create incredible disparity. This is because most workplaces and teams are cut out for extroverts, who find it easy to strategically position themselves in front of various stakeholders – the leaders, media and the community. Often, their Facebook profiles mimic their LinkedIn profiles, with validation flowing in from all quarters.
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But does that have to mean a complete exclusion of introverts from shared successes simply because while they work just as hard, they don’t feel the need to or are incapable of making a show of their professional contributions? Should it create biases in the mind of leaders and managers that just because an individual is not vocal enough about his or her contributions, he or she is perhaps not contributing enough?
Getting rid of cliches and archetype hangovers
Our culture has encouraged the success of stereotypical extroverts. Even books, such as “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, provide valuable professional insight and help mid-level managers navigate the world of “strategic positioning”. With a higher premium being placed on gregariousness than on skill, general decency, and graciousness.
From hiring managers to leaders, everyone needs to see the value of personality inclusion at the workplace. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the clichéd insights about introverts – creativity, analytical thinking etc. – are true for every such person. But I will tell you this – if you are judging a person’s skills and capabilities on the basis of how much they talk, you are looking at it all wrong.
You don’t need research to tell you that skills and capabilities come in all forms – a quiet person could be as valuable as the extrovert. True diversity and inclusion are about making workplaces, where everyone with the right skills and attitude thrive – irrespective of personality traits and other variables.
Engaging, and not forcing, introverts to be part of the discourse
To ensure diversity and inclusion that also takes personality types into account, there are three immediate and critical needs:
- We need to recognise that business outcomes are independent of personality types
- We need to actively engage introverts in our conversation
- We need to make physical space for introverts
Measures to separate the fluff from substance
The first one is the hardest in our current workplace culture, and often it is nobody’s fault. It is obviously easier to see the contributions of a teammate who can’t stop talking about it. Leaders and managers need to dig deeper. Sure, the extroverts must be rewarded but an analytical view into every individual’s contribution is important. If someone is not telling you about their wins at work, ask them. Written performance appraisals do a good job of it, as do regular one-on-ones to understand the contributions of every person on the team. It encourages transparency and removes arbitrary doubts.
Working with and not around introverts
The second objective – including introverts in conversation and decision-making – needs work from leaders and managers too. For one, introverts don’t take to impulsive brainstorming very well. Pre-planned agendas work better for them, as they like to weigh their opinions and measure their words. Which, subsequently, makes meetings more productive, so you might as well invest that time and get everyone on the same page in advance.
Actively listening to introverts also means consciously asking for the opinions of everyone around the table, irrespective of personality types. It means not taking the easy way – of letting the extroverts drive agendas and decisions.
Leaders and managers must also be open to ideas in all forms and shapes. If introverts don’t come forward in person but can pitch ideas over email, there is nothing wrong with that. Focus on the message – in all forms, not the messenger.
A little peace and quiet is not much of a bargain
Finally, our workplaces need physical spaces for introverts to reach their peak performance. While open plan offices are all the rage now and even though they may encourage collaboration, they are also noisy and intrusive. Now, it must be a logistical nightmare to change office layouts to include a few introverts, but smaller, closed cubicle - where one can find some solitude, can make all the difference. And well, hidden work corners never harmed anyone.
Eventually, like most things at work, personality inclusion too is a matter of intent. As soon as leaders and managers learn to celebrate diversity – in gender, backgrounds, conditioning, race, culture, and personalities – it will become easier to include these diverse working styles and perspectives into decision-making and ideation. It sounds like a matter of sheer common sense. And believe me, it is.