Personality is what makes us who we are. It shapes how we view the world around us, how we interact with others, as well as how others perceive us. In fact, “our lives are shaped as profoundly by personality as by gender or race” (Quiet, Cain 2).
We know that preferences or biases lead to discrimination based on an individual’s gender, race, ability, age, orientation, or creed. But what about their personality? The nuanced essence of personality – being an intricate combination of nature, nurture, and experiences – makes it more difficult to understand its effects on our lives.
An Extroverted Society
Western countries value extroversion. From our classrooms to our workplaces, there is an unspoken partiality for extroversion. Adjectives associated with extroversion tend to be more positive compared with those associated with introversion. It is important to note that these traits exist on a spectrum. There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or introvert. While each personality type has its unique strengths and weaknesses, neither is intrinsically superior. Yet, in the workplace and society at large, extroversion is often treated as the ideal.
As humans, we tend to show a preference for others like us or familiar to us. This is known as affinity bias. When those in a position of power exercise affinity bias, coupled with more positive associations with extroversion, it communicates a message and perpetuates an “ideal”. “By its very nature, personality causes unconscious bias. It influences how systems and structures evolve to favor certain types over others, and keeps us from including types who are different from us” (Regier).
When the bubbly, energetic, and talkative recruiter assesses candidates based on their social skills, additional barriers are placed before the candidate, similar to how race, gender, and ability often impede candidates.
Hiring for Personality
The problem with hiring only like-minded people or those similar to us means we greatly limit our creativity, innovation, and ability to learn from differences. Perpetuating the extrovert ideal also means overlooking roughly half the population.
A quick google search for whether we should hire for personality leaves you with far from straightforward advice. One of the main arguments is that skills can be learned where personality cannot. While this is to some extent true, no one is suggesting that personality has no significance, choosing not to hire someone who is more soft-spoken or who might have different strengths than you can harm your ability to build a truly diverse workforce.
Breaking the Mold
We often hear that the language used in job descriptions can push qualified candidates away from applying on the basis of gender. But the same holds for age, ability, race, and personality. Using words like energetic or social butterfly signals the importance of personality fit over qualification. Using a tool to optimize the language used in job descriptions helps ensure that you do not exclude certain groups.
For candidates who apply, the resume review process is another opportunity where affinity bias can work against them. Reviewers’ preferences and associations to certain outliers on a resume can impede judgment. Preconceived ideas on what types of personalities go into sales vs. accounting, for example, can lead to an unfair consideration for anyone who does not fit that mold. Blind screening allows a greater focus on what matters – skills, knowledge, competencies, and abilities.
First impressions do not give us a chance to see beyond the obvious. Looking back on our first impressions of a spouse, friend or colleague quickly demonstrates that these perceptions are often way off. When we allow first impressions, or gut instinct, to determine a candidate’s future, we impose a narrative on someone who may simply have different strengths than we do. Structured interviews help concentrate on job criteria, offering all candidates an equitable experience.
We need people with varying strengths. Awareness of affinity bias and preconceptions around personality type allows us to include those that are different from us.