Introverts Prompt A New Diversity Conversation


My friend and colleague Lenora Billings-Harris is a leading diversity expert.  She has devoted herself to helping organizations “create a safe, nonjudgmental and uplifting environment that makes exploring sensitive topics a positive journey for all. Her company’s name  is taken from the powerful words of Nelson Mandela who said, ” I am because we are. We are because I am.”  

I just had the opportunity to see her in action at the SHRM Diversity and Inclusion Conference in Boston, MA where Lenora facilitated a number of engaging dialogues with diversity thought leaders and C-level executives. I was grateful when we squeezed in a quick coffee chat early one morning and am inspired by her work.Check out her site for resources and the latest ideas from this top thought leader. 

I am very excited about the addition of introversion to the new diversity conversation with  the support of Lenora and leaders like Julie O’Mara and Associates  in this area. Julie’s team has produced The Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks which have set the standard for excellence in organizational diversity. 

From Lenora:

“From time to time, I will introduce you to some of my colleagues and fellow diversity experts by posting their articles within this ezine and on my blog I hope you will enjoy these different points of view, as I do. This month,  Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D., CSP shares her thoughts on the emergence of introversion in the element of diversity in the workplace….”

From Jennifer:

The rise of the introverts is a real movement that has received a lot of attention lately. I have heard from hundreds of readers of my last two books,Quiet Influence and The Introverted Leader, about how they finally feel validated and are owning their strengths. Introversion is also being discussed as an important element of diversity. There are three key reasons why introversion is a new emerging element of diversity in organizations.

1) Introvert qualities are needed today. The qualities that introverts demonstrate like preparation, listening, taking quiet time, reflection and one-on-one connection are linked to innovation and customer satisfaction. I have found that when introverts stop trying to act like extroverts and draw from these strengths they truly make an impact. They impact performance by challenging the status quo, provoking new ideas, inspiring others and creating change.

2) Together, introverts and extroverts rule. Powerful teams of introverts and extroverts have a unique chemistry and achieve outcomes they never could alone. I call these pairs “genius opposites.” Think the Wright Brothers, Mick and Keith, Jobs and Wozniak. Throughout history, odd couple partnerships have created brilliant new products, great works of art, and have even changed history together. But these genius opposite partnerships take work to succeed, and the magic rises from their differences. Although their styles are divergent, the results of their collaboration look like they came from a single mind. Their relationships are most successful when they stop focusing on their differences and use approaches that move them toward results.

3) Recruiting and retention. We miss out on 50 percent of the population if we are only tapping into those who express themselves easily in interviews and show the expected Type A extroverted, outgoing qualities. More reserved individuals will lose out in our rush to hire. In a survey I did of a hundred introverted leaders I found that 4 out of 5 of them perceived extroverts getting promoted at work more often. Promotional opportunities may be closed off to introverts who experience bias by the nature of their quieter natures.

How Organizations Are Embracing Introverts

There is encouraging news. Some leaders are taking pro-active steps to value the introverts in their midst. One example is Suzanne Davis, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion and her team at Freddie Mac. They have raised the profile of introverted leaders in their organization and are committed to training leaders to recognize the importance of leveraging both introvert and extrovert strengths. In other companies the creation of quiet office spaces to accommodate introverts’ needs as well as areas for casual, serendipitous conversations are another example. Finally, more meetings are being structured with introverts in mind. Team leaders are engaging quieter people on conference calls, providing more breaks and allowing for small group breakouts during larger meetings.

Note: In my next blog post I will share tips for creating an introvert-friendly workplace.


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