Diversity is important.
Having people in an organisation of different ages, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation – even hair colour (that’s for all you redheads) - adds richness to a business by bringing different perspectives and experiences to the party. It promotes equality, innovation and creativity and therefore many organisations have elevated the subject to a high place on their agendas. Enough said!
There is, however, another bias that lurks in organisations. It is much more disguised than those we are familiar with (race, gender etc.). It can lead to skills being ignored and may prevent individuals from fulfilling their potential. This bias is against introverts.
Susan Cain, the author of the book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" argues that present Western culture misjudges the capabilities of introverted people, leading to unused talent and energy.
Let’s explore some myths about introverts:
They aren’t creative
There is a huge difference between how an extrovert and introvert approaches creativity. An extrovert likes spontaneous, social creativity and so will gladly participate (for example) in a brainstorming meeting to generate a list of great ideas that need to be sifted and tested to get to a single, workable conclusion. An introvert likes to research and test first to develop a single idea that will pass muster. They need time to reflect and think. The end point is the same- a workable solution – but the process to get there is different. Examples of introverted-creative people are: Daniel Day-Lewis, Freddie Mercury, Bob Dylan, Sir Elton John, Andy Warhol and J K Rowling.
They don’t like to talk
They do like to talk, but not about subjects that they consider to be superficial, frivolous or pointless. Introverts are thinkers and they love to talk about subjects that have depth and meaning – which may not include what happened in last night’s episode of Coronation Street.
They are boring
Tell that to Gary Oldman, Stephen Fry, Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford and Meryl Streep! Just because they are an introvert, doesn’t mean that are shy.
They can’t make decisions
Extroverts are more likely to take decisions quickly and verbally. Whereas introverts process information internally; they will be less expressive about their thinking and will process information before drawing a conclusion. In fact, research suggests that introverts process information quicker than extroverts (Cooper 2013). So, if you want them to make a quick decision, just send them information in advance to ponder.
They don’t make good leaders
Which begs the question – what is a good leader? Much of the reading material, training and psychometric assessments surrounding leadership are based around a view that leadership is inherently extrovert. They favour characteristics such as strength, gregariousness, social confidence, and positivity, risk taking which are common in a Western business culture.
In his book, ‘Cultural DNA - The psychology of globalization’, Gurnek Bains suggests that the prevailing culture of an organisation leads to individuals being rejected because there is a:
“….natural inclination to recruit in one’s own image. Those who do not fit the culture frequently end up being ‘tissue rejected’ unless they adapt.”
Which means that, if you are in a business that has historically been led by extroverts, then by osmosis, the organisation functions around a model of extroversion and its culture will favour extrovert characteristics. As a result, introverts could feel marginalised and ignored. Diversity in this environment does not include diversity of personality.
Examples of introvert leaders are: Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates, Hilary Clinton, Mahatma Ghandi, Barak Obama and Nelson Mandela.
Without introverts, we wouldn’t have Facebook, Microsoft, Google, the electric light bulb, Apple, much of literature, music and comedy. Introverts make a significant contribution to organisations; they just function differently from extroverts. By understanding the way that introverts function, organisations would access to a wealth of creativity, knowledge and insight that may have been overlooked in the past.