top of page

Do Introverts face a glass ceiling?


In an ideal world, personality type would not be a predictor of career success. But, we don't live in an ideal world.

Evidence tells us that ENTJs and ESTJs make the highest salaries, ENTJs manage the most employees, and an ENTJ is the most likely personality type to become a CEO.

If you're an ISFP, ISTP, INFP, INTP or INFJ, then you can expect to earn around half as much on average as your typical EXTJ – partly because you are much less likely to land a supervisory role. And even if you do make the jump into management, the chances are extremely slim that you'll be trusted with a very large team. Despite the job requiring infinite patience and focus, it's mostly Extraverts who get to manage 20+ employees.

This data certainly suggests they do. And there's a frustration stirring, about being undervalued and misunderstood, or having to act like something they're not just to get their talents recognized in an Extravert-dominated workplace.

So what does it take for Introverts to get a seat at the big boy's table? How can they be heard?

What is the Introverted Glass Ceiling?

When we talk about glass ceilings, we're referring to an unfair cap on how far a person can advance based on some attribute that isn't essential to the job. Women often face the glass ceiling due to certain stereotypes about their abilities: "Women can't handle the pressure," for example, or "We didn't think she'd want that much responsibility." Therefore, women might be promoted less often than their male colleagues, even if they're at least as qualified for the job.

When Introverts hit the glass ceiling, it's based on a similar set of prejudices.

How often have you heard the following?

"He's too quiet. He needs to speak up more."

"She thinks things over too much. She needs to be more decisive and learn to take action."

"He's not very sociable. He needs to build his interpersonal skills."

"She doesn't really stand out in team meetings. She needs to be more assertive."

"He's just not a natural leader. We need someone who's going to be tough."

The big problem with repeating these messages is it reinforces the idea that introversion is a defect that needs to be corrected and introverted personalities are too weak to make it to the top.

What Introverts Actually Bring to the Table

Far from being weak, Introverts possess a number of traits that not only are an asset in senior work roles, they're also the traits that disgraced leaders have visibly lacked. (Take a detour through the biographies of Uber's Travis Kalanick, Enron's Ken Lay and MF Global's Jon Corzine, for example, and you'll see how excessive risk-taking and ruthless dominance – traits of extraversion on steroids – can bring down companies when left unchecked.)

Here's what introverts bring to the management table:

Prudence. Yes, it sounds boring, but managers and leaders who create stability, who keep a level head in a crisis and who avoid taking unnecessary risks create solid and successful teams. Introverts think things through and don't take impulsive actions. Their team members are not thrown off balance by rapid and unexpected changes of direction or sudden emotional shifts.

Humility: It's sad that we don't place much value on the trait of humility since a healthy sense of our own limitations is essential for reaching our goals. The humble person is more likely to admit that she doesn't have all the answers and to incorporate other people's ideas into the overall plan. One study linked the virtue of humility to a leadership style described as "servant leadership." These leaders foster good performance by focusing on the growth, well-being and reciprocity of their teams.

Constructive communication: Introverts are often accused of being poor and reluctant communicators, but what they actually do is patient listening. They allow others to speak and spend a lot of time engaging in calm and constructive debate. This thorough and inclusive approach allows them to make considered decisions that are focused on the "why?" and "is this the right thing to do?" rather than the extraverted approach of "let's just do it!"

Productive rather than competitive: Introverts are really not at home in the battleground of meetings and individual competition, preferring to reflect and collaborate over making snap decisions. Instead, they're motivated by productivity, of getting the job done for the good of the project without being sidetracked by ego or the thrill of win