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Rethinking personality in today's world of diversity

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 - 10:51

We all know the scenario: You apply for a job that fits your project management training. The company loves your C.V., you nail the interview and meet with the directors - who think you're perfect. Yet, why have you not received a confirmation email in the last three to five days?

Well, you remember that questionnaire you filled out? It was a personality test and while you ticked all the other boxes, the results of this showed that you were not a 'good fit' for the corporate culture. 

While we know how important it is to have a personality that complements the company's culture, in today's world, could this focus on "fitting in" be a major drain on an organisation's ability to compete?

For those with leadership training, could personality tests be failing identify talent individuals?

Personality, diversity and corporate culture

By now, most people are aware that diversity can be a valuable tool to leverage better market performance.

Take 2013 research from the Center for Talent Innovation, which considered over 40 case studies and approximately 1,800 employee surveys through the lens of diversity. Researchers found that publicly traded companies with 'two-dimensional diversity' - for example gender -  were 45 per cent more likely to have an expanded market share, while they were 70 per cent more likely to have secured a presence in a new market.

Or as a 2012 report from Deloitte found, employees who believe that their organisation is committed to diversity are more likely to rate it highly for customer service, innovation and engagement. Additionally, a high sense of inclusion led to reduced levels of employee absenteeism. 

Yet, in many companies, the idea of inclusion is not meaningfully connected with diversity. Take a recent vignette from the Harvard Business Review. Talking to the author, an employee said she had been hired because she ticked all the boxes for diversity - being a woman from India. Yet, she pointed out that while up for promotion she took a personality test and was instead let go because she did not fit the organisational culture.

The idea that someone needs to fit in with a company culture is counterintuitive if an organisation is also looking to drive diversity within its workforce. As diversity is founded on the idea of bringing together a wide range of unique people to ensure that a variety of differing perspectives are applied to a set of a common goals, excluding people who are believed to not fit is irrational. 

What's more, the traditional way companies' categorise people has been shown to be problematic on a number of levels.

Are personality tests being used to exclude people because they do not fit organisational culture in spite of recent pushes for diversity?

Personality tests: Inaccurate or reliable?

As companies require quicker, more accurate methods to define people, many have turned to tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. But research has shown that this is not the most effective way to understand a potential employee. 

Developed during World War Two on the basis of Carl Jung's work, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test was developed to help women entering the workforce find jobs best suited to their personalities. Over the course of its history, there have been a number of comprehensive critiques that point out its questionable theoretical underpinning and inaccurate categories. 

Take for instance the category of extrovert vs. introvert. The test sorts you into either one of these; there is no middle ground. The problem with this is that it simplifies the very complex idea of personality, which has been a tricky concept to pin down and study since it was conceptualised.

When you put the inaccuracies together with the recent push by companies to ensure a person fits with a certain culture, the outcome is a very narrow recruitment net. As result, there is no doubt a number of highly-talented individuals slipping through the cracks. 

As an organisational leader, moving away from inaccurate tests and understanding that a culture of diversity is one of inclusion is the first step to expanding the scope of your recruitment processes. While people always look for shortcuts, those with leadership training will be aware that this is not the only option.