Glen Cathey Explains Why and How Introversion Should be a Part of Diversity and Inclusion

October 15, 2019

Early in Glen Cathey’s career, the owner of the company he worked for announced in front of his peers that he was surprised hiring Glen had worked out. Why? Because Glen is quiet. 

“It really felt like a slap in the face, publicly to be called out for that,” Glen recalls, as if you can't be successful employee if you're quiet. "Imagine if you filled in that blank with any other characteristic. It would be unacceptable.” 

Glen can be quiet at times because he’s an introvert. Researchers estimate that anywhere between 16 - 50% of people are introverts, with many agreeing that introversion is a genetic personality trait. Common characterisitcs of introversion can include a dislike for small talk, taking time to process information before responding, and a need for quiet time to recharge. Unfortunately, these traits are not often appreciated in the workplace. In fact, one expert found that 98% of introverts feel reproached or maligned at work. And when introverts feel like they don’t belong, it can have a serious impact on your company’s diversity and inclusion efforts — especially for introverts from other underrepresented groups. 

“Introversion cuts across all gender identities, races, ethnicities, and ages,” Glen says. “It impacts a lot of people, and anyone who is already dealing with a challenge in any other diversity characteristic, you add introversion on top of it — that really is a double or triple whammy.”

During his talk at Talent Connect 2019, Glen shared his own experience as an introvert at work, as well as his tips for building a hiring process and workplace that welcomes introverts and extroverts alike. 

1. Don’t ask people “Why are you so quiet?” — it can make introverts feel uncomfortable

If you’re not an introvert yourself, you might interpret a coworker's quietness as a sign that something is wrong. But more often than not, when introverts are quiet in the workplace, it’s just because they're thinking to themselves or they need a moment to recharge. So, well intentioned questions like “What’s wrong?” and “Why are you so quiet?” can embarrass them for simply being who they are.

“I can't tell you how many times I've had people ask me [these questions] in work settings and around co-workers,” Glen says. “It calls me out and it makes me uncomfortable. Imagine if you inserted any other trait, [like, to a woman] ‘Why are you so feminine?’ It’s bizarre.”

Before you ask a quiet person what’s wrong, take a moment to ask yourself why you think something’s wrong. If their silence is the only indicator, it may be best not to ask. 

“I would say 99.99% of the time, nothing is actually wrong,” Glen says. “And if you're an extrovert, you might be reading their silence and it makes you uncomfortable, so you end up asking those questions — and it actually makes that person feel more uncomfortable.” 

2. Provide affinity bias training for interviewers to ensure they don’t naturally gravitate towards people like themselves

Introverts and extroverts manifest confidence and capability in different ways. But the traits associated with extroversion can often make a better impression on interviewers and managers. One study of more than 300 Australian adults found that 96% see extroversion as more “socially desirable.”

This can greatly impact an introvert’s chances of being hired and promoted. In fact, Introverts tend to earn significantly less than their extroverted peers and face a steeper path to leadership

And with extroverts dominating leadership positions, affinity bias can also be a factor, since people tend to hire those most like themselves.

“You like people similar to yourself,” Glen says. “I feel that sometimes...I unnerve extroverts with my introversion. Sometimes, it feels awkward, when it shouldn't feel awkward. I think it's unconscious.”

To combat these issues, Glen recommends providing affinity bias training to recruiters, hiring managers, and others involved in the recruiting process. This can prompt them to take a closer look at why they prefer one candidate over another. 

“You're not hiring people for small talk or their ability to schmooze and make a connection with the interviewer,” Glen points out. “You're actually hiring people who can do the job, not people that can make a good impression in an interview in terms of how well they talk.”

3. Be mindful that introverts often don’t make eye contact when talking — especially if you use video interviewing tools

One potential pitfall that introverts can face in interviews is the expectation to make eye-contact when answering questions. Glen says many introverts aren’t even aware of the fact that they tend to look away while talking because of the way they process what they’re saying. 

Introverts are not the only candidates who can struggle to maintain eye contact. This is also a challenge for individuals on the autism spectrum, so it’s important to train managers to overlook nonverbal cues to help make your hiring process more inclusive.

Eye contact can also impact an introvert’s chances of passing a one-way video interview that uses artificial intelligence to gauge their suitability for a role. 

“One of the factors they tend to look at has to do with maintaining eye contact,” Glen points out. 

That’s not to say you shouldn’t use these tools — just that you might want to take a second look at candidates who score low on eye contact but otherwise seem highly qualified. 

4. Give interviewees an idea of what they’ll be asked to let them process the questions at their own pace

Studies show that introverts take longer to process information than extroverts. During interviews, this can cause them to take longer to answer, which may give interviewers the wrong impression. 

“Most interviews are geared towards extroverts,” Glen says. “You may not really think about that, but if you're confident, charismatic… a really quick-thinker, it tends to impress people.”

To level the playing field, Glen recommends letting candidates know in advance what kind of questions they’ll be asked. Some companies are already using this technique, including Google and McKinsey.  

“If you send out the types of things that you're going to be talking about, that gives them a chance to prep,” Glen says. “There's no correlation between how fast you can come up with an idea and how smart or how good your idea is.”

Since introversion is an inherent trait that candidates don’t have control over, helping them prep for the interview is a reasonable accommodation that just makes the process more accessible to them. And by sending this information to every candidate, you’re not giving some an unfair advantage — you’re helping everyone to answer to the best of their abilities so that you can make the right decision. 

5. Moderate meetings to ensure every voice has a chance to be heard, and send out both an agenda and a summary

Meetings are another potential minefield for introverts. Since they can take a little longer to process their thoughts before they speak, they may find it difficult to speak up in the moment — especially if there are a lot of big personalities in the room. 

“I can't tell you how many times I've been in meetings where extroverts dominate,” Glen says. “They're not doing it on purpose. But people let it happen, and you shouldn't put the introverts in the position where they're the ones that have to out-extrovert the extroverts that are dominating with no break. Some people start talking before the other person ends.”

Appointing someone as the moderator in each meeting can help control the flow of conversation. The moderator should prevent people from interrupting one another and ensure that every voice has a chance to be heard. 

“Call on people who haven't spoken yet,” Glen says. “It's really helpful when you can notice that, hey, there's three people that haven't contributed. Get them towards the end. Give them more time to process. They may be sitting on ideas, and it's okay, even if it's going back earlier in the conversation.”

Similar to giving interviewees a chance to prepare, Glen recommends sending out a meeting agenda, pre-read, and even the PowerPoint presentation in advance. This lets everyone — not just the introverts — start gathering their thoughts and come into the meeting ready. 

“If you're going slide-by-slide… they can be left behind as you move on,” Glen says. “‘And sometimes they're like, ‘Well, I'm just not going to share, because I have an idea on slide five, and now we're on slide 20.’”

Glen also suggests sending out a summary after the meeting and encouraging participants to keep the conversation going. 

“If you're like me, sometimes your best ideas come after the meeting,” he says. “But if there's no mechanism to be able to collect that, again, your organization is missing out on good ideas.”

6. Flip the script to help managers understand how their feedback comes across to introverted employees

By giving everyone a chance to speak in meetings, you can also help introverts avoid dreaded conversations with their managers about how quiet they are. As Glen points out, admitting you’re an introvert isn’t always met with understanding. 

“I've had countless conversations with leaders in my career that [have said], ‘Hey, Glen, you have awesome ideas, but you need to speak up more in meetings,’” he recalls. 

Eventually, Glen admitted to one of his leaders that he doesn’t speak up often because he’s an introvert and the meetings are unmoderated and dominated by extroverts who think and talk at the same time. Rather than working with Glen to make their meetings more inclusive, the leader was dismissive, telling Glen he didn’t like the term introvert.

“I don't really know how you respond to things like that,” Glen says. 

To help managers understand what it’s like to be an introvert, Glen recommends that HR uses a tactic called “flipping the script” that he learned  from Ryan Showalter, director of consulting at 84.51° (the data analytics arm of Kroger). Ryan created an introvert employee resource group called ITOPiA and has created some tools that help managers realize how certain words or pieces of feedback can come across to introverted employees, as well as offering suggestions about what they could do differently. 

For example, since saying “you do not speak up enough” can make introverts feel as though their ability to speak up determines their value, it can be helpful to "flip the script," whereby managers encourage their introverted employees to follow up with their ideas at a later time.  

“These are super practical pieces of advice to give managers,” Glen says, “so they understand how this actually impacts the introvert.” 

7. Replace brainstorming with “brainwriting,” where people have time to write down their ideas before they’re discussed 

Group brainstorming, like meetings, can be difficult for introverts, since they may take a little longer to generate ideas and find it tricky to speak up. 

To ensure you don’t miss out on great ideas, Glen recommends replacing brainstorming sessions with brainwriting sessions. These are essentially the same thing, except during the beginning of the session, the group has time to silently think through their ideas and write them down on slips of paper. Then, without talking, the papers are passed around the group and everyone is given the  opportunity to add suggestions and expand upon ideas. 

“[There are] no names are on the slips of paper, so it's not about who contributes,” Glen says. “And you give the introverts some time to quietly think things through, rather than letting the session  be verbally dominated by extroverts.”

8. Create an introversion-friendly work environment by offering remote work options and quiet spaces

Introverts can experience social fatigue when they’re surrounded by a lot of people for extended periods. This doesn’t make them anti-social — they just need a little alone time to restore their energy. But in some workplaces, this is easier said than done. 

“The open work environment can be challenging for introverts,” Glen says. “It’s not impossible to work in that environment — I've had to, but sometimes I've resorted to putting headphones on to tell people I’m busy.” 

If you have an open office plan, adding quiet places where people can work alone can be beneficial to everybody. At Lyft’s San Francisco office, for example, there are secret hideaways that employees can escape to when they need a mental breather. 

Offering remote work options can also be rewarding for introverted employees, allowing them to take some alone time when they need it and avoid burnout. Glen says he often works remote and that it helps him to do his best work. 

Supporting introverts can help you benefit from diversity of thought

On the surface, introversion may not seem like a top priority for your company’s diversity and inclusion efforts. However, if you're truly committed to diversity and inclusion, you need to create a workplace  where everyone feels comfortable bringing their authentic self to work and sharing their unique perspectives — which helps with retention and employee engagement and ultimately makes your company stronger. 

“If you're talking diversity of thought,” Glen says, “and some people don't get an equal opportunity to share  their diverse thoughts, your organizations are losing.”

For more tips and insights, watch Glen's full talk below: 

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