How Introverts Can Grab a Seat at the Table
The corporate world is thankfully changing. When I started in the late '80s, the scarcity of People of Color across the organization was obvious and the number of women in leadership positions was close to zero. Men in crisp white shirts and ties ruled the floor, seemingly always talking about golf with a splash of fishing and an occasional rumor of a secret, tawdry office affair.
But what lay below the surface was most concerning. This vanilla-looking environment often led to homogeneous thinking, especially within the most boisterous and outspoken members. The"outside" group was easily left behind to follow in frustration.
Decades later, much has changed. There is an obvious push for greater diversity in the workplace, often mostly driven from the ground up and outside in. Top-down initiatives tend to be slower in many organizations without these other forces, perhaps because leadership, in general, can be stuck in its ways and resistant to change that could undermine their approach and omnipotent of power.
But those forces of change are powerful. People of Color and female employees, as well as the more progressive majorities, see that treating all people with respect and inclusion is not only a basic expectation but a gamechanger for organizations. Why it took so long to get to this point we can only speculate and assume the looking glass was not so clear in years past.
The biggest push has perhaps come from the community at large who also represents the customers. Customer demands are changing - in the products, customer service, community involvement, and ethical behavior of the companies they support. It is very hard for a vanilla company to adjust to the multiple flavors and toppings the general community now enjoys. Perhaps spurred by the greater buying power of women and People of Color, companies are hurrying to change to compete or even survive.
Another Type of Diversity: The Hidden Half
Hidden below the surface has always been the plight of introverts - diversity of thought. Whereas the common culture was gregarious in social situations, demanding as leaders, insistent in meetings and boisterous at team gatherings, most introverts felt intimidated and thus relegated to quiet neutrality or feigning support of the predominant school of thought.
Introverts have been the "hidden half." We have always existed in the workplace - indeed typically about 50% of the workforce - yet we have either stayed in the periphery to remain hidden or we've worn a mask to appear part of the gentry to ease our psyche and pave a simpler path for our career ambitions.
Yet what we are actually earning is a sense of low self-worth borne from pretending to be someone else all day. We also become exhausted from a full day of acting, leaving only the remnants for our family at the end of the day. And finally, we often invite unhealthy conditions as our stress and anxiety burrow to the surface rashes, nerve damage, and muscle pains.
Now, finally, our hidden talents can converge with the customer-spurned demand for more creative products and the workforce's demand for inclusion and respect.
While all introverts are different, deep down we wear common themes of preparation, observation, consideration, and collaboration. In the past, we often thought our hesitancy to jump into debates was from a lack of ideas, or that our reluctance to join social networking sourced from myths that we can't converse.
But the prevailing truth is that we just have our own way of achieving objectives. We lead with listening as learning. We observe situations, consider many sides of an issue - the pros and cons and repercussions of choices - we cogitate on these awhile, and then, we are prepared to make well-thought-out pronouncements.
We do generate valuable relationships with co-workers, teammates, and customers, but we do this one-on-one and over time so it doesn't appear monumental until one steps back and observes the alignment and bonds that result. We often contribute to creative solutions borne from our introspective mind and periodic daydreaming.
Is The Time Ripe?
We no longer need to hide these talents to conform with the masses. Customers and companies no longer want such groupthink. They want and need new ideas and perspectives. The end goal is not to replace the extroverts at work, but to provide some checks and balances so impromptu decisions are more thought out, superficial relationships are formed with depth, and teams are built around collaboration and respect.
How to Accelerate Diversity
The question is not is the time ripe for introverts in the workplace, but how can we accelerate this evolution for the betterment of the individual, company, and customer.
Everyone plays a role.
The customer should continue to voice for their needs and opinions through comments and pocketbooks. Patron those that deliver, overtip those that service, and boycott those that don't adapt.
The introvert needs to accelerate their own journey. Discover and practice your strengths. Don't hide them or your introversion. Share both with co-workers and managers. Such vulnerability chases the elephant out of the room, is a catalyst for deeper bonding, and encourages everyone to utilize individual strengths and team synergies.
Leaders need to not only accept this diversity of thought or even allow its inclusion but seek such contribution and celebrate those who bring their true self to the table. Recognize others who encourage such teamwork while counseling those who hold on to the old-world vanilla workplace of days past.
The time is now ripe for diversity of thought to join the wave of inclusion in progress. It may seem easier at times to remain hidden, but the benefits to you, your teammates, and your company are overwhelming. Take the first step. Identify your strengths, explore how you can share those talents, and claim your seat at the table.
The Corporate Introvert: How to Lead and Thrive with Confidence is now available
This book compiles stories and strategies to help introverts embrace their true selves and empower themselves to champion meetings, networking, and team leadership with the strengths & passions that reside at your core.
Whether you are a frustrated introverted veteran of corporate culture, a new or aspiring corporate leader, or an extrovert seeking to best collaborate with a more diverse workplace, The Corporate Introvert can make an immediate difference in your work life, your level of confidence, and your personal joy.
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Guest Blogger Chelsey Brooke Cole shares her unique expertise to explore the difference between introversion and narcissism.