Updated: Dec 1, 2021
Photo credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Summary: The pandemic is proving to be a catalyst for personality type inclusion as a significant diversity focus. Leveraging personality understanding, along with the work changes thrust upon us by the pandemic, we argue will lead to more work satisfaction and productivity.
Background - Personality and Diversity
One of my take-aways from past diversity training is that people tend to focus on unfairness when it hurts them and tend to be less sensitive to unfairness when it does not hurt them. The idea was that I, as a straight white man, needed to deeply empathize with all to truly understand unfairness and social inequality. To truly get it, I needed to walk in the shoes of people of other ethnic groups, genders, sexual orientations, etc. The unfairness perception challenge is fundamental to human nature, as related to neurobiology and our evolutionary-designed tribal nature.
Why unfairness can be hard to see are explained as part of our neuroscience and cognitive biases related to locus of control. As such, we tend to focus on:
an “internal locus of control” for good things that benefit us. An internal locus of control statement is: “I did this good thing because of my hard work” and
an “external locus of control” for bad things that hurt us. An external locus of control statement is: “This bad thing happened to me because of some external force.”
Thus, it is our nature to minimize our unfairness focus when it does not hurt us. It takes work to truly understand. (1)
The training resonated and made intuitive sense to me.
Personality type impact in the post-pandemic world
Fast forward to today and the “new normal” job environment. Our new job environment is an outcome of the many changes accelerated by the pandemic. There appears to be a new diversity segment focus. Segment members that had quietly struggled before the pandemic and are now starting to get more balanced treatment. The pandemic required changes in how we work, including the need to work alone. Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, said:
“The place of introverts in our culture today is very similar to where women were in the 1950s and early 1960s,” she said. “Half the population was discounted for something that went to the core of who they were. And it was also a population on the verge of coming into its own, like what’s happening with introverts now. We’re at the cusp of a real sea change in the way we understand this personality type.”
I’m referring to personality types as an important diversity group. The introvert-enabled employee is starting to get more balanced treatment in a world traditionally dominated by the extrovert. (2)
If your first reaction is: “Really? I have no idea what Jeff is talking about!” That is likely because you are an extrovert. Based on our locus of control and the traditional dominance of the extrovert, I would not expect an extrovert to appreciate the struggle of an introvert. But for the other half of us, we are intuitively aware of the advantage of being an extrovert. So much so, that work success often requires us to rewire our naturally introverted personality to adapt to a world that seems to favor extroversion. By the way, I have found that with some work, an introvert can adapt to an extroverted world. However, it takes significant personal work and demands ongoing maintenance energy. Also, under stress, people will naturally revert to their native personality state. (3)
Then, the operative questions become:
“Why doesn’t the work environment better leverage the natural talents of half its work force? Instead of asking the introvert to adapt to something they are not?”
The pandemic and positive changes for the introvert
The work environment adaptation to the introvert is accelerating. Introvert adaptation had already been in process, resulting from the information worker demands of the information age. However, as a by-product of the pandemic, sensitivity to the needs of the introvert is increasing. Strangely enough, for me and a not-statistically significant group of introverted friends, the pandemic lockdown has had some amazing benefits.
I have been so much more productive as enabled by uninterrupted focus. It is easier to plan for extroversion with introversion being the default standard. The pre-pandemic office environment was subtlety the opposite, where extroversion is the default standard and one has to plan for introversion. (4)
Zoom meetings are great. They are an efficient and planned time to communicate. We can get much-needed communication accomplished and brainstorm. We can also easily time box periodic extroversion needs. To be clear, collaboration, whether on zoom or in-person is important. Just not as an “all-the-time option” constantly callable in our daily work life.
Also, productivity measures and management are still important. We should be held accountable for productivity expectations, regardless of the environment.
In the past, it was easier for extroverted leaders to have a “quick meeting” with little notice. Especially when their folks were in a cube outside their office. Now leaders need to plan communication in advance and confirm their people have the tools to be productive when they are not together.
Certain industries were already more introvert-friendly. For example, the professional services industry already had in place mobility productivity tools for their geographically dispersed workforce. More importantly, these firms had already built mobile productivity culture and expectations. Other more traditionally centralized industries are now taking advantage of mobility tools and are coming up the “new normal” cultural power curve. As a path forward, Diversity Councils may leverage personality types, or neurodiversity, to help deepen overall diversity goals. (5)
Many suspect the mobile- and introvert-friendlier world is here to stay. In a recent The Economist article, How to manage the Great Resignation, they said:
“…. there is also reason to believe that higher rates of churn are here to stay. The prevalence of remote working means that more roles are plausible options for more jobseekers. And the pandemic has driven home the precariousness of life at the bottom of the income ladder.”
I take this as confirmation the introvert expects a different work environment. They are willing to change jobs to those companies that “get it” and create introvert-friendly environments. Certainly, there are other reasons, like child-care and alternative needs for work flexibility. But, it would seem the introvert stands to benefit, along with those companies that learn to leverage their introvert-enabled employees’ special talents. Certainly, introverts have a ways to go, but as Susan Cain said, “We’re at the cusp of a real sea change in the way we understand [the introvert].”
(1) The irony of the previous section is notable. I, a straight white man, am rationalizing my reason for not being as sensitive to the needs of other people. I do so by indicating it is not really my fault, but the fault of my neurobiology-based locus of control cognitive bias that has been evolving since the beginning of time. Yikes!
For whatever it is worth, understanding the science related to my own neurobiology has enabled sensitivity to other people. Know thyself.
(2) We need to be careful classifying individuals as either an introvert or an extrovert. Personality research, including that of Carl Jung and Meyers-Briggs recognize complex personality dynamics. In general, I consider introversion and extroversion on a situationally dependent continuous scale.
(3) Hulett, Creativity - For Both Introverts and Extroverts, 2021 - an example of adaptations of an introvert.
(4) Hulett, Creativity - For Both Introverts and Extroverts, 2021 - subtle definition differences of "Introvert" and "Extrovert," as nouns and "introversion" and "extroversion" as verbs.
(5) Hulett, Sustainable Diversity in the post-pandemic world, 2021 - we provide a framework and benefit examples from including neurodiversity as part of the diversity focus.