Introverts and Workplace Bias

In the workplace, there is a common misconception that extroverts are more successful than introverts. This was demonstrated to me yet again a few weeks ago when I was in Huntsville at a week-long training session that was part of a NASA leadership training program I was accepted into called NEXT. This particular day, we discussed our Workplace Big Five Profile results. We discussed the different traits, broken down into linear scales with opposite traits at either end. The traits were broken down (with the ends and middle defined) as follows:

  • Need for Stability (Resilient – Responsive – Reactive)
  • Extraversion (Introvert – Ambivert – Extrovert)
  • Originality (Preserver – Moderate – Explorer)
  • Accommodation (Challenger – Negotiator – Adapter)
  • Consolidation (Flexible – Balanced – Focused)

Each trait was broken down into further sub-traits, but my intent is to demonstrate how, according to this assessment, each trait is a spectrum on which all people exist. 

When considering each of these traits, the question presented was “Where on the spectrum would you expect a “Good Leader” to fall”. This makes sense when considering if someone is resilient or reactive or if they challenge or adapt. When considering if they are more introverted or extroverted, however, it implies that one makes a better leader.

This is not true. In fact, introverts can be just as successful as extroverts, if not more so. However, introverts often face workplace bias, making it difficult to succeed.

There are several ways in which introverts can be discriminated against in the workplace. For example, introverts may be less likely to be promoted, given raises, or assigned to essential projects. They may also be more likely to be passed over for opportunities to network and socialize with colleagues.

There are several reasons why introverts may be discriminated against in the workplace. One reason is that extroverts are often seen as more outgoing, confident, and assertive. These qualities are often seen as being essential for success in the workplace. However, introverts can also be outgoing, confident, and assertive. They express these qualities in different ways. In fact, often, introverts can be hidden because being an introvert isn’t specifically about how you present yourself but about how you recharge your energy.¬†Many people have thought me extroverted, which I am very much not. Even on this assessment, I scored so low on the scale that only 7% of the population shared my section of the graph. That is pretty introverted.

Another reason introverts may be discriminated against in the workplace is that they are often seen as less creative and innovative. This is also simply not true. In fact, introverts can be just as creative and innovative as extroverts. However, they may express their creativity and innovation in different ways.

One way this bias presents is the need for extroverted people to “Pull introverts out of their shells” This is so commonly stated that it should be a foundational description of extroverts. Even in our cohort, one extremely extroverted woman shared how she considers it her personal mission to pull introverts around her out of their shells. The problem is we don’t need to be pulled anywhere. We need our boundaries to be understood, and we need them to be respected.¬†

If you are an introvert, you can do several things to overcome workplace bias. First, it is crucial to be aware of the bias that exists. Once you are aware of the bias, you can challenge it. You can do this by speaking up for yourself and advocating for other introverts.

It is also essential to be confident in your abilities. Remember that you are just as capable as any extrovert. You may express your abilities differently, but that does not make you less capable.

Finally, setting your boundaries and ensuring they are known and respected is vital. Sometimes it is nice to have someone to provide you an opportunity to break out of your routine. Still, it is extremely important that they understand and respect that when you politely refuse, that no really does mean no, not because we are broken, but because we need time to recharge or that maybe that event is just going to take too much out of us on that particular day.

Here are some additional tips for introverts in the workplace:

  • Set boundaries. Introverts need time to recharge, so setting boundaries with coworkers and managers is important. Let them know that you need time to work alone or that you need to take breaks during the day to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  •  Find your strengths. Introverts often have valuable strengths in the workplace, such as attention to detail, critical thinking, and creativity. Focus on using your strengths to your advantage, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed.
  •  Build relationships. Introverts may not be as outgoing as extroverts, but building relationships with coworkers is still important. Find ways to connect with people on a personal level, even if it’s just through a quick chat or a cup of coffee.
  •  Be bold and speak up. Introverts may be more comfortable listening than talking, but speaking up is important when you have something to contribute. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas and opinions, even if you’re the only one who feels that way.

Remember, you are not alone. There are many introverts in the workplace who are facing the same challenges as you. Recent studies show that as many as 40% of the population lean more on the introverted side of the spectrum. By following these tips, you can overcome workplace bias and succeed in your career.