With current disruptions in our workplace and in the world, a truly inclusive culture that recognises cognitive diversity is more relevant than ever before, explains coach and facilitator Aoife Lenox.
On a cool September evening in 2018, a Starbucks coffeehouse in the suburbs of Cork City was the venue for the inaugural meeting for Introverts in Business Cork.
As the founder, I arrived early. I brought my son along because it had been suggested to me that no one would show up, they wouldn’t want to admit to being an introvert. I put a meetup sign in the middle of the table to identify myself but didn’t put Introverts in Business on it, because, as an introvert, I didn’t want to draw too much attention. It was difficult enough to sit in the middle of a coffeehouse with a sign on my table.
One person approached the table and sat down. Seven more followed. That was the beginning of a group that is now 274 member strong. The experience reinforced to me that I was not the only introvert in Cork, and not the only one struggling. The meeting continued for over an hour and I had to call an end to it. Contrary to the suggestion that no one will speak up, the meeting proved that, given the space, introverts can be very chatty.
You might find interesting: Introverts: your time has come Podcast
An unconscious bias for ‘naturalness’
The following year, in an effort to showcase introvert strengths, I was doing an interview series on introverted business owners and asked a successful owner to contribute. His response was that his introversion wasn’t a positive message to share and wouldn’t help his business.
Hitting such roadblocks, I went for a mentorship appointment with a representative from a government-sponsored business support group. He emphatically disagreed that introversion was a personal or organisational issue and said that my business was based on a false premise. I wondered had my business been designed to draw attention to extrovert strengths, would the reactions have been different?
Angela Duckworth, author of Grit, says we have an unconscious bias for ‘naturalness’. In a research study a group of participants were told to listen to two pieces of music. One was by a ‘natural’ pianist and the other by a ‘striver’, someone who has developed their skill through sheer effort. When asked which was the better piece, the majority of participants chose the ‘natural’ pianist. It was in fact the same pianist playing both pieces of music.
The study was repeated with entrepreneurs. Those who were deemed natural entrepreneurs were more likely to be successful at securing funding. Do we have the same unconscious bias towards introverts? Is this why the research shows introverts make less money and are less likely to be in top leadership roles.
In her new book, Jennifer Kahnweiler says that by not including introverts in our workplaces we risk losing 40-60% of the contributions of our workforce. In a society where personality is often the definition of success the neurodiverse or introverted candidate can often be ignored.
Looking into the future
Despite diversity being at the forefront of world and organisational commitment to creating inclusive work environments, there still remains a sometimes conscious, but often unconscious, bias against introverts.
The future growth in permanent remote work could create even more of a divide, with introverts working from home and extroverts choosing to return to office work creating two entirely different work cultures.
If you want to create a truly inclusive culture that recognises cognitive diversity there are steps you can take. Conduct an audit of the team and organisation to identify work processes and environmental issues not in line with inclusive practices. Provide awareness training for managers, leaders and all staff members to educate everyone on personality differences and finally choose process improvements to focus your efforts towards a systemic and cultural shift.