Inclusion and Diversity – Don’t Forget Personality

By John Hackston

Today’s businesses aren’t all just about shareholder values–many measure their performance with a triple bottom line. Profit, yes, but also People (caring for customers, workers and the wider community) and the Planet (caring for the environment).

A key aspect of looking after people is inclusion, the process of facilitating full involvement in the organization and a sense of belonging by people from all backgrounds, by actively removing barriers to full participation. In 2019, there was even an inclusive economy challenge (though for obvious reasons this has been more difficult to organize this year). Now the English language is a slippery thing, and the word ‘inclusion’ can mean many different things. For example, if you are familiar with the FIRO-B assessment, you’ll know that Inclusion is one of the dimensions of this framework. People who are high on Expressed Inclusion want to include and involve other people in their activities; people who are high on Wanted Inclusion want to be included and involved in activities by other people. By revealing our interpersonal needs and the needs of those around us, tools like the FIRO-B can help create a roadmap for how we include others.

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‘Inclusion’ means rewarding those of all personality preferences

For companies that embrace a larger view of what constitutes success, , however, inclusion is part of a wider agenda involving the promotion of diversity and inclusion. For example, are opportunities available to all regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, background or other attributes? These factors are important, but we would add a further question: are opportunities available to all regardless of their personality preferences? Research using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) framework suggests that as a whole, organizations tend to value and reward people with some personality preferences more than they do others. For example, people with a preference for Introversion tend to be less well-regarded and are less likely to be promoted than those with a preference for Extraversion. It’s not surprising that on average Introverts report lower levels of wellbeing that Extraverts do. And this isn’t just a problem for Introverts; in neglecting this aspect of inclusion, organizations are missing out on the many gifts that Introversion can bring.

Having an inclusive approach to people with different personality preferences can help promote diversity and inclusion in other areas too. It is well-known that women are under-represented in leadership roles in many organizations, but what is less well-known is that this is partially due to personality differences. One dimension of the MBTI assessment, Thinking-Feeling, looks at the way in which we prefer to make decisions. People with a Thinking preference prefer to make decisions based on objective logic, while those with a Feeling preference prefer to make decisions based on their values, and on how the decision will affect other people.

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Inclusion of all personality types can improve gender inclusion

In a recent research project, we found that managers were more likely to have a Thinking preference than non-managers, men more likely to have a Thinking preference than women, and men more likely to be managers than women. Men were slightly more likely to have a Thinking preference if they were at a higher level. The same was found for women, but to a much larger extent. This suggests that for a woman, it may be more difficult to be promoted if you have a values-based, people-focused approach to decision-making, but for a man it does not matter so much. There is an interaction between personality and the ways in which men and women are perceived. Ignoring diversity and being non-inclusive when it comes to personality can prevent organizations from being inclusive in other areas too.

To be truly inclusive, a B Corp (or any organization) needs to consider personality as well as other factors. Tools like the MBTI assessment can be key assets in promoting diversity and fostering inclusion.

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