By: Joanna Rawbone, founder of Flourishing Introverts
With the draw to return of the workplace increasing, and hybrid working becoming the norm for many, ensuring that everyone gets the same opportunities is the new challenge. Anyone serious about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will have their finger on this pulse and it’s always worth checking that your Equity & Inclusion toolkit is up to date. With the focus traditionally on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic class, gender and gender identity, where there is still much work to be done, neurodiversity is often further down the agenda.
This in itself is a broad subject and I’m focusing on a specific element of neurodiversity here, the area I have personal experience of. And I know I’m not alone because it impacts up to 50% of any population. It’s the extraversion bias.
The head of communications in one of my clients says that it seems to be “the last acceptable prejudice in the workplace!”
Wherever my work as a trainer, coach and facilitator has taken me throughout the world, one thing has always been consistent; the quiet delegates are more likely to be overlooked and undervalued. Am I noticing this because I’m looking out for it you may ask? Of course, that’s what we do when we become aware of potential bias.
Hybrid working is in danger of exacerbating the proximity bias, which is our tendency to show preference to those close by or in our line of sight. Think out of sight, out of mind. Many of us will recognise instances where we build stronger working relationships with those we sit closer to, which then introduces the possibility of favouritism of opportunities.
This bias was recognised long before the pandemic of course, but it has the potential to become a real problem for those employees who exercise their right to spend more time working somewhere other than the office.
Extraversion bias coinciding with proximity bias
What we could well be looking at here is the extraversion bias coinciding with proximity bias. If you’ve not heard of the extraversion bias before, allow me to elaborate. It’s when the everyday practice and processes favour the natural behaviours of extraverts. It occurs in our society at large, in familial settings, in our education system and in our world of business. It is so prevalent that left unaddressed, it makes equitable inclusion almost impossible.
What do we mean by extraversion and introversion though? Our perception can be that extraverts are outgoing social butterflies, the life & soul of the party, whilst introverts are tongue-tied loners who keep their heads down. Contrary to many articles in business journals or course outlines, introverts are not broken or in need of fixing. Nor is introversion the same as shyness, social anxiety, or depression. I know extraverts who experience those things too! It’s simply neurodiversity.
The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung explained that the difference between introversion and extraversion is what drains and what charges our mental batteries.
Functional neuroimaging studies confirm how the brains of introverts and extraverts light up differently when stimulated in the same way. Introverts are not weird, they’re wired differently.
According to Jung, Extraverts are constantly seeking interaction, active experiences and change in order to be energised. Extravert literally means ‘outward focus’. They tend to have a say-think-say communication process and are therefore good at shooting from the hip.
Introverts are already over-stimulated mentally which is why being in busy, loud and disorganised environments is so draining for them. They are sustained by their rich world of thoughts, ideas and personal reflection and as a result, generate a peaceful and calm energy from their internal world. Their communication process is think-say-think, so their contributions are measured and considered.
This extraversion bias is at play then when recruitment, assessment centres, career progression, promotion boards and meetings favour that extravert ideal.
So common is this bias, introverts are constantly compromising their true nature in order to fit in & get on. Years and decades of being told to be different, push yourself forward, speak up more, get out of your comfort zone, in other words, be more extraverted, results in many introverts feeling ‘not enough’ being who they are. This is in part because there are so many myths and misconceptions about the true nature of introversion.
Because of their quiet nature, we mistakenly think of Introverts as socially inept, lacking ambition and low in confidence. This can result in the assumption that introverts are not leadership material. We only have to look at the likes of Marissa Meyer, Elon Musk, Larry Page, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett and Barack Obama to know that assumption is untrue. But where are the famous British introverted leaders? Maybe we’re lagging behind in our perception of what makes a good leader. Fortunately, we can include the well-respected thought leader Simon Sinek in the introvert camp, but who are the others?
If we think about a typical workplace with the open plan offices and back-to-back meetings, introverts can struggle to hang on the last shreds of charge in their mental batteries to do their best work. So, unsurprisingly, many will choose to work from home or somewhere else that’s quiet when hybrid working is introduced.
But, does this mean that introverts will lose out on opportunities? It’s highly likely that are already missing out because of the misconceptions and when we add in the proximity bias associated with hybrid working, the answer is very possibly. Unless that is the managers and leaders are mindful of both of these biases and consciously create a level playing field.
I have already heard and seen comment about those who come into the office being more committed than those who don’t.
Research conducted by the ONS (Office of National Statistics) during the pandemic regarding the impact on promotion prospects showed that employees who chose to work from home were less than half as likely to have received a promotion compared to their colleagues who went into the office. This is alarming in terms of future diversity and equitable inclusion.
So, what needs to change?
- Raise awareness of and educate around the extraversion bias. Considering this aspect of neurodiversity involves up to 50% of any population, that’s a lot of talent that may be untapped.
- Raise awareness of and educate about the proximity bias, especially if you are implementing hybrid working. Check the working of your policy so that people don’t feel pressured into coming into the office.
- Continue to develop the depth of psychological safety in the organisation so that people are able to speak up when they witness or experience these, or any other bias.
- Consider the wasted talent if the quieter ones are not given the opportunity to play to their authentic strengths. It impacts health, wellbeing and productivity. Is that a price you’re willing to pay?
- Ensure that all employees, wherever they choose to work from, are included in communications, offered opportunities and treated as valuable members of the team.
It’s down to senior leadership to show the way here. To model how effective hybrid working can be. To shift the culture to one that values productivity and wellbeing, not presenteeism. And wherever people choose to work from, ensure that the opportunities are unbiased.
About Joanna Rawbone, founder of Flourishing Introverts:
Joanna has spent more than 24 years working with 000’s of international clients through her own training & coaching consultancy, Scintillo Ltd. During this time, and through her own earlier experiences, she has seen just how problematic the Extraversion bias in organisations is. It negatively impacts employee engagement, retention and productivity. It also impairs the physical and mental health & well-being of employees with the obvious consequences.
Recognising that it was time for action, Joanna founded Flourishing Introverts, a platform to:
- support those who want to fulfil their potential without pretending to be something they’re not.
- educate and inform organisations about the true cost of overlooking their introverts
- promote positive action and balance the extraversion bias
Joanna has a real passion for helping her clients make the small but sustainable changes that really make a difference. Being a functioning introvert, her clients value her ability to listen to more than the words, understand things from their perspective and co-create robust, pragmatic solutions.https://www.flourishingintroverts.com/