Leaving the Introversion (20>>21.b)

Diversity acknowledges the human factor in professional and business processes, aiming at improving outcomes for people and organisations. The human mechanism of introversion requires special attention these days. Specifically including in D&I.

The importance of close friends and deep, trustful relationships was never more obvious than in the past twelve months. And similar to the effects of an existing (or missing) purpose, the introversion effect of an external threat show up in both private and professional contexts.

  • Many people observed that throughout the pandemic, they mainly communicated with a small set of good friends, although we all had time and the means to contact the many people we had not been in touch with for (too) long.
  • In the professional D&I arena, I have sometimes noted a similar dynamic: Experts rely on a network and few established sources to find inspiration and validate their thoughts. I noted an increase of this introversion in 2020 while for some the situation served as an impetus to choose to go out of their way and take a more different, profound and critical approach to their work.

A Reality Check on D&I Recommendations

The standard D&I narrative includes strong statements about the value of different perspective and the need to be mindful about both similarity and out-group biases. We also flag out that in times of crises or during change processes, the attention on such biases should increase and the value of outside input can be even greater. My observations during the covid-19 period have been twofold:

  • A surprisingly large group of companies that showed clear signs of introversion and
  • A small group that fully grasped the opportunity to reassess, realign and refocus their D&I work in a systematic, challenging and future-oriented way

How to detect introversion

The blind spot bias tells us that people – this includes ourselves, right? – find it (more) difficult to see their own bias (compared to the bias they detect in others) and overestimate their capability to manage it. Reading examples of how introversion can become visible shall provide you with simple checkpoints for related dynamics. The following are real life situations from 2020 and may or may not have been influenced by the covid-19 context.

  • At a former client, the current D&I manager confirms “We like reading your free articles (only)…” as a valuable source of information and inspiration but does not consider more thorough input
  • A National subsidiary of a global firm had already tried various approaches to gender diversity (with limited success) and claimed to look for a new, profound, strategic approach ending with “An NGO will be our expert strategy development partner…”
  • A medium tech company with a complicated inter-cultural setting looked for a partner to carry out thorough analysis and more, and told us “Our decision was the result of a democratic vote…”
  • Some D&I experts mix up fact-based research with personal experience and say “You are entitled to your own opinion…”
  • A large technology firm was looking for an initial D&I input for emerging leaders and needed more support on existing and future initiatives, and finally told us “It is your decision how much free service you want to invest prior to the actual project…”
  • Several corporate D&I contacts confirm the great value in an exchange with me and my researchers and suggest to extend it in the following way: “If you have ideas for […] send them over…”

Seen from my outside perspective, introversion is a common thread across many of these behaviours, sometimes coupled with underestimating the complexity of the task and/or overestimating their available resources. If you are uncertain what to think, I suggest you flip the context and check if the behaviours still feel effective, appropriate or even professional – or if they may be influenced by the challenging context and strengthened by introversion. Let’s imagine for a moment, each of these companies where

  • in the process of redefining their core leadership principles for the next decade
  • looking for a new approach to market research
  • aiming at redesigning their production planning system

To the best of my knowledge, the above behaviours would not occur in these contexts where the scope and complexity of the questions are quite similar to D&I. Companies would insist on thoroughly developed solutions.

The beauty and benefit of looking, thinking and acting outside of (y)our box

The theory of Diversity is just too clear and obvious for the people working in the very field. This often applies in a double sense:

  • Too obvious to explain the dynamics in a contextualised way and/or
  • too obvious to make sure all principles are consistently applied.

In the current situation, being not only consistent but even rigorous about quality and ethical standards is hugely important. For the backlash that Diversity & Inclusion has seen in many places over the past six years is significant and the challenges that most organisations face are severe. They have developed vast, costly initiatives and must deliver on high expectations. In reality, they often only see the same moderate change as in the past. The lack of impact often shows that key issues are not addressed – or not in an effective way. Applying different types of analyses, looking at your situation from different perspectives and encouraging experts to propose different solutions should be the most obvious approach. Generating more impact rather than more action should be your goal in the first place.

Tips: how to leave the introversion in 2021

  1. What we know from bias mitigation is that simply trying to go against a deep-rooted mechanism is not promising. Therefore, if you recognise some forms of introversion in yourself – particularly in the current context – do not try to fight it right away but acknowledge it first of all. Understanding why you have that tendency and what the benefit is for you – at this time – will help you develop some readiness to expand from there.
  2. Then, assess your current and future challenges in D&I – maybe with the help of different stakeholders who can point out pitfalls or weaknesses as well as developments that might affect your work. Use this map of challenges to evaluate if your current approach, your resources and the skills and perspectives of your support network are sufficient to design resilient strategies. If your conclusion is that everything will be fine, go back and raise your bars in order to make sure you identify significant future challenges or threats, and evaluate your resources critically. Getting to the limit of your safe, self-affirming space is required as a preparation for VUCA coercions.
  3. Shopping for new inspiration can happen in many different ways. Asking your peers or friends who they recommend delivers modest (bubble, echo chamber) results. Instead, you can ask yourself when or where you heard or read something ‘crazy’ or ‘provoking’. Follow that path and it may well lead you to different inspiration bases. Another simple search area is, tataaa, the internet: Just taking ten to twenty minutes to perform a well-structured search for Diversity, Inclusion PLUS some of your key challenges will for sure take you to some ‘unheard of’ sources.

Whatever you initiate in 2021, keep in mind that we are tackling a topic of strategic relevance that connects talent with corporate performance and external expectations. We are expected to design and deliver the best solutions that also mirror the standards we are setting for an inclusive future for all.


This is the second part of the 20>>21 trilogy – the first issue on PURPOSE can be found here http://en.diversitymine.eu/di-can-provide-the-purpose-that-makes-the-difference/ and the following part will be about UNDERSTANDING (FAKE) CHANGE.


Ensuring relevance and hence creating buy-in and traction has been the goal of the Engineering D&I approach which I developed in response to challenges in the 2010s. Find out more about the specifics on the website of my company www.european-diversity.com


Further Reading

A guide to reflecting current challenges in D&I http://en.diversitymine.eu/4-dynamics-that-influence-the-di-landscape-not-only-for-the-best/

Looking at diverging effects of covid-19 on different groups http://en.diversitymine.eu/will-di-benefit-from-covid-19-or-suffer/

Revisiting some assumptions and busting common D&I myths http://en.diversitymine.eu/the-biggest-untapped-potential-in-most-workplaces/

What to consider in order to be consistent on D&I http://en.diversitymine.eu/about-group-tenure-over-confidence-and-value-add-from-di/

One of the straight-forward applications of D&I fundamentals http://en.diversitymine.eu/how-a-broader-gender-approach-can-improve-research-in-stem/