We’re so used to the word Diversity in our offices, in our schools and in our media but what does the word mean to you? The dictionary definition states it as “The State or Quality of being different or varied”.
Most will see it as achieving a balance of types in a given scenario and relate it to gender, race, religion or sexual preference. At its lowest level people see it as a requirement to tick a box showing all types are represented. At best, people see the value of a range of input bringing quality to any given output. I see diversity as not just allowing difference or celebrating difference but as BENEFITING from difference.
I watched the X Factor at the weekend (Yes I am one of those who enjoys it for the light entertainment it brings!) and saw the judges selecting their teams of 3 to go forward and represent them in the live shows. In each category there were outstanding singers but the selected teams for each judge were 3 very different genres. The judges could go for 3 similar types – a perceived winning formula multiplied by 3 – yet they knew that achieving a diverse team with differing looks, backgrounds, singing style meant a chance to offer something broader and the chance to appeal to and inspire a wider audience.
Introverts and Extroverts
But in all this focus on diversity, particularly in the work place, there is one category that is missing – diversity of personality type. I have written before on the significant differences in approach and needs of Introverts and Extroverts. This is not as easy to spot as shy versus outgoing and the best analogy I have heard is the comparison of people to batteries. An extrovert is like a solar-powered battery – this battery type is charged by sunlight and can keep going endlessly while bathed in the sun. An extrovert is the same with attention – when they are the centre of attention and surrounded by social interaction they light up and gain strength and confidence. An introvert however is like a rechargeable battery. In full charge they can be as sociable and bright as an extrovert, but after a while this power is exhausted and they need time alone to recharge.
Society still struggles massively with acceptance that being an Introvert is ok and not something to be fixed.
This is always highlighted to me at Parents Evening. I have an intelligent, happy, yet quiet son who is prone to being a dreamer. Our 10 minutes in front of his latest teacher went pretty much as they always do. He is well-behaved, kind, in the top set for Maths, the top achiever in written work, always engaged in the activities he is given, and well-liked BUT he is too quiet and too passive. I left feeling slightly deflated about how we could fix him, change him, help him be more loud and gregarious then I stopped myself. I was falling into societies trap – if I read all the comments about him before the BUT then he is doing fabulously! Who could wish for more? He is quiet, he is a dreamer and he is never going to be the one with his hand in the air going “ME, ME, ME!” and THAT’S OK.
Why does it matter so much to me? Well it matters because you take a child who is made to feel that they are somehow wrong for their personality. You make them feel the one thing that is inherent within them needs changing. You do this to the personality type who is most prone to self-analysis, low self-worth and self-criticism – then you wonder why these people buckle under the pressures of life. Instead we could celebrate their contributions, encourage others to take a gentler approach and show them how to benefit from who they are in such an energetic and fast-paced world.
It starts at school but how do those introverts cope in the workplace? Well, introverts with their quiet focus, ability to think deeply and need for work time alone can achieve very highly. Some of the most amazing inventors, artists, creators, scientists and authors were introverts.
I have been able this week to see the experience of an introvert in a management team. It is a fact that the majority of management teams consist of mostly extroverts. In a working society that gives to those who shout the loudest or who stand up and make themselves known, it is the extroverts who are noticed for management roles. They tend to be confident leaders, be good at talking themselves up and are more comfortable in recognising their strengths and selling them to others. In the business where this individual works, they have been recognised for their committed approach and achievements and, to applaud the company, were welcomed to the management team some while ago. This is great!
Recognition of diversity in a team and having a blend of people who bring different styles and different ways of working is exactly how to create a successful team.
The next step however is the bit where companies often fail. The two biggest mistakes are
- Gathering a diverse team then expecting everyone to contribute to every discussion and decision rather than recognising which strengths are needed where and using the people to best advantage.
- Accepting introverts into the team then pushing them to be more like the extroverts.
No-one would do that, right? Wrong.
This individual has recently come back from a management conference during which there was an exercise using a method calling “Stop. Start. Continue.” where each individual writes down what each other member of the team should stop, start or continue and then the notes are all collated and given to the individual to digest. (For the record, I personally think this method benefits individuals during efficiency exercises on their workload and am surprised it was used in this way as it’s a sure-fire way to break down trust and cause-ill-feeling between people.)
I don’t know how it feels to be an extrovert receiving such notes as these but as an introvert the approach is a) to barely notice the positives as they feel unnecessary and will be the high standard you already expect from yourself, b) to feel a little hurt and attacked by the negatives and perhaps analyse whether there is deeper meaning behind them. This can lead to huge feelings of alienation from the team which is a shame when I assume the Facilitators goal would be to bring the team together.
The main point that I wanted to pick out from the individual’s exercise were numerous comments like “Stop being the odd one out”, “Try to fit in more”, “Get more involved” and “It feels like you don’t want to be in the management team”.
Accepting a Different Approach
What I know from the individual is that he is an introvert in a team of mostly extroverts. He is different in this way. He is there because of the quality of his work and because he brings a different angle and approach that is highly valuable. The “not getting involved” comments relate to his discomfort with ice-breakers, team games, small talk – all things that can be uncomfortable and unnatural to introverts. He very much wants to be in the management team. He has great things to offer from a work perspective and brings a valuable angle to team discussion but the suggestions of change that are related to personality type are as frustrating to him as the criticism of my son’s passiveness are to me.
This person recognised a while ago the difference in his approach to that of some others and did a lot of research to help him understand introverts and extroverts. He is enlightened on why people do things as they do and even ran a workshop for his team to help them understand that they are all different and how this manifests itself in a work environment. In fact it’s very natural for an introvert personality type to read, learn and understand others. I wonder how many of the extroverts members of the team have taken time to research and learn about personality types different to their own in order to work better together? That answer will probably be none of them. It is not their style to do that. And so the problem deepens. In actual fact in a team such as this it is often beneficial to not only have introverts in the team but to have an introvert leading the team. The dynamics of the team can change widely and things become much more focused on people’s strengths and diversity rather than trying to drag everyone into the same mould.
To Sum Up
I feel that for true diversity to benefit us all we need to see it as wider than visual, and see it as deep as personality. Differences are to be celebrated. If you are forward thinking enough to welcome diversity into your team, then take time to understand it and benefit from it. To welcome variety then try to bring it back into the mould is as backward-thinking as not celebrating diversity at all. If you find yourself thinking someone doesn’t fit in, take time to learn about how things look from their perspective. It you work with or parent someone quiet, take a step back and stop yourself from trying to change them but instead help ensure that the bit of their world you influence encourages their personality and doesn’t crush it. We are all different and different is good.
And now I watch closely whether the celebration of diversity shown in these early stages of the X Factor will be nurtured through to the end. Will the judges (leaders) hold strong on the reasons they encouraged diversity and explore growth in line with each person’s type or will they too fall into the management team failings of welcoming difference but then working to bring them all back into the one mould. I shall watch with interest.