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Diversity and Inclusion: Why Leaders Need to Look Beyond the Obvious

Diversity is good. Coupled with inclusion, it’s even better. After all, if we were all the same, what a dull, unimaginative world it would be.

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Estimated reading time:5minutes

Embracing our differences helps to make organisations dynamic. Whilst a lot is talked about the most obvious differences that are seen, and to some extent differences that aren’t seen such as religion, sexual preference and so on, one difference that often gets overlooked and unspoken about is personality.

Personality Homophily

Personality Homophily is where we have a tendency to associate with people who have a similar personality to us. In the workplace, this can translate to an unconscious bias towards different personality types. Where a personality doesn’t fit the dominant cultural norm, it could lead to the individual being treated less favourably.

Hardly a week goes by where I don’t get a message or an email from an introverted woman working in an organisation with a predominately extroverted culture, who is feeling the pressure of working in an environment that doesn’t accept her difference.

It has been said that the more homogeneous an organisation is, the greater the likelihood of a tendency to be drawn to people like themselves. If there is a homogeneous personality in an organisation, where does this leave those whose personality doesn’t fit the majority?

We also see this with cliques that form. How often have you seen cliques form in the workplace, of people who are very similar to each other?

Homogeneous personality traits of managers

Research suggests that to a certain degree, organisations are homogeneous when it comes to the personality traits of their managers. This becomes more so the higher up the corporate ladder you go. This leads to a lack of diversity and inclusion regarding personality types.

For those aspiring to leadership roles, seeing a dominant personality type in leadership teams, is hardly going to give them encouragement to progress in the organisation.

A key factor influencing an individual’s decision to join an organisation is a personality fit, but often time it’s not until they are actually in the organisation that they realise that it isn’t a fit.

Some of the benefits to be gained from having diverse personalities in the workplace include:

  • Better quality decisions
  • Better team work
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Challenging of assumptions

I regularly coach introverted leaders for whom there is not a personality fit between them and the homogeneous extroverted personalities on the leadership team. Many are weary from trying to make it fit. Coaching enables them to be their authentic self and thrive in the organisation. There are some who opt to find an organisation for which there is a better personality fit.

The dangers of striving for cultural fit

When it comes to hiring or promoting, a lot of organisations look for cultural fit. The danger with this is that unfavourable unconscious bias towards different personalities can creep in. I recently had a conversation with a woman who was unsuccessful at an interview because she wasn’t a cultural fit. She wasn’t given any specifics as to what this meant so was left to draw her own meaning.

Having individuals that are a cultural fit can be good for both the individual and the organisation. The individual is more likely to have greater job satisfaction, are more likely to be committed, and are more likely to stay at the organisation. Whilst organisations may want their employees to share the same values and norms, hiring for cultural fit can lead to discriminatory practices if not handled properly.

Many recruiting decisions are done on the basis of personality tests, but could these unwittingly lead to unfair treatment towards different personality types? Whilst such tests may provide valuable data for some organisations, there is also the possibility that they could lead to discrimination. Earlier this year, an employment appeals tribunal held that the use of a psychometric test was discriminatory. This case involved a disabled candidate and highlights the potential for the results of such tests to be discriminatory in their use.

Personality tests shouldn’t be used in isolation in selection processes, having too many people with the same trait leads to a lack of diversity.

How leaders can address their personality bias

Leaders should regularly challenge their views and assumptions and get feedback from others by seeking different perspectives, so they are not closed minded. In turn, they should challenge the views and assumptions of others who demonstrate personality bias.

Develop an awareness of how you interact with different personality types. Having that awareness will enable you to recognise when you are treating someone less favourably because their personality is different. If you don’t interact well with those who have different personalities, spend more time with them and develop ways in which you can.

Examine the decisions you have made about other people, look at your reasons for making those decisions and what aspect their personality played in your decision making process.

When looking at diversity and inclusion, personality should be part of the mix as well. As leaders, what consideration do you give to personality when developing your diversity and inclusion strategies?

Community for introverted women

Are you a high achieving introverted senior woman? If so, join my new LinkedIn community for high achieving introverted senior women, who are members of senior management teams or executive teams. It is a place to discuss issues relating to your career and how to thrive in environments that don't view introversion as a strength. Come and join the conversation here.

All high achieving women who want to be authentic, bold, confident leaders and excel in their careers and businesses are welcome to join my other, more general community of High Achieving Women here

About the author

Carol Stewart is the Coach for High Achieving Introverted Women, an Executive, Career, Business Coach, Writer, Speaker, LinkedIn Top Voice UK 2017 and the founder of Abounding Solutions. With over 25 years coaching and leadership experience, I help women (with a particular emphasis on introverted women) to be authentic, bold, confident leaders and excel in their careers and businesses.

She also helps organisations develop the talent pipeline of female employees so that more women make it to senior management roles. This article was initially posted on Linkedin. 


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Wilgen and the alugha Team!





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