It’s a well-known fact that women are under-represented at the senior level. John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company talks about a recent study about gender and leadership.

 

February 10, 2020

By Paroma Sen

It’s a well-known fact that women are under-represented in most industries, especially at the senior level within most organizations. John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company joins us in this interview to talk about key findings from a recent study which indicated that the earliest date for any parity to exist between men and women in higher leadership roles will be 2070!

Hi John, we’d love it if you could tell us a little about yourself…
My name is John Hackston, and I’m a Chartered Psychologist with over thirty years of experience in helping people understand and use psychological tests and questionnaires. In my current role as Head of Thought Leadership for The Myers-Briggs Company, I carry out research to bring personality assessments, in particular the MBTI assessment, to life. The goal is to help both practitioners and a wider audience apply the insights these tools can bring.

We’d love to know about some of the key highlights and findings from the recent Myers-Briggs study in which you’ll found that parity between men and women in higher leadership roles won’t be equal till 2070! What are some of your thoughts here?
The study showed that women and minority ethnic individuals were under-represented at senior levels in organizations, with minority ethnic women the most effected. Put simply, you are less likely reach the top if you are a woman or from a minority ethnic group, and especially unlikely if you are both. This was, unfortunately, not a surprising finding, but two aspects of this research were new. First, because we had data going back 15 years, we could see the trends over time, which suggest that 2070 the earliest date for parity to exist between men and women in higher leadership roles (and this might be optimistic). Second, the research showed that there was an interaction with personality.

One dimension of the MBTI assessment, Thinking-Feeling, looks at the way in which we prefer to make decisions. People with a Thinking preference prefer to make decisions based on objective logic, while those with a Feeling preference prefer to make decisions based on their values, and on how the decision will affect other people.

We found that managers were more likely to have a Thinking preference than non-managers, but that this effect only really applied to women. Men were very slightly more likely to have a Thinking preference if they were at a higher level, but women in leadership roles were much more likely to have a Thinking preference than women in non-leadership roles.

This suggests that for a woman, it may be more difficult to be promoted if you have a values-based, people-focused approach to decision-making, but for a man it does not matter so much. While this is bad news for women, it is bad news for organizations too. To make a balanced decision, you need to use both the Thinking and Feeling modes. If you don’t consider how decisions will affect the people in your organization, you may have trouble retaining them, and you might not take your customers with you either. Teams and organizations that are more diverse make better decisions.

Could you also throw some light on the key personality differences that were found between leaders and non-management level staff?
As we’ve mentioned, leaders were more likely to have a Thinking preference. The other big difference is around Extraversion and Introversion. Managers are more likely to have an Extraversion preference, focusing their attention on the outer world and talking through their thoughts and ideas, than are non-managers. Of course, this does not necessarily mean they are better leaders. Often the quiet reflection and consideration that an Introvert can bring to an issue is very useful, but there is a danger that this can get lost in the noise of an Extravert conversation.

How would you comment on the overall findings of the study and its impact on employees (men and women) in the tech sector?
Women are under-represented at senior levels in the tech sector, as they are in most industries. The proportion of women who are leaders in this sector is only 57% of the proportion of men who are leaders in tech. This is better than some sectors (food preparation and food service, 33%) but worse than others (entertainment and the arts, 73%). The lack of women leaders who can act as an example may have an impact in making the sector less attractive to women. By illuminating the relationship between gender inequality and personality, this research can open up conversations by, for example, helping managers and others see that including a consideration of people and values in decision-making can be useful.

Given the current global pandemic and the shift in workplace trends because of it; what are some of the personality traits that you’d advice leaders managing remote teams should hone in on more, to ensure a seamless work structure? Do you have any special comments for global employees at this time of crisis due to Covid-19) – how would you advise companies to ensure their employees are all kept motivated?

Extraversion-Introversion is a key aspect of personality to think about during the current pandemic. People with a preference for Extraversion will gain a great deal of benefit where their organizations can provide them with the technology to connect with people regularly (both at work and informally), in order to keep their energy topped up. Using video can be especially useful. Making the home work environment stimulating also helps – putting the radio on, or going for regular walks around the house, for example.

Those with Introversion preferences need to carve out a workspace for themselves at home that allows them to concentrate without too many distractions, but should not forget to make time for family members and fellow workers. Their extraverted colleagues are likely to appreciate the interaction and contact.

The MBTI dimension of Judging-Perceiving is also important. People with a Judging preference enjoy a planned, organized life and may be particularly unsettled by the imposed changes brought about by suddenly having to work from home. It will be useful for them to get into a new routine as soon as they can, setting clear goals at the start of each day and setting boundaries around working hours. Those with a Perceiving preference may initially welcome the new flexibilities and freedoms. Once working from home settles into a routine, however, they may become frustrated by the lack of variety, especially in states that are rigidly enforcing a ‘shelter in place’ policy.

We’d love some of your thoughts on key personality traits that can enable better functioning of front end customer facing roles like marketing and sales in tech?
Tools like the MBTI assessment are very good at building individuals’ self-awareness, and also their understanding of other people. This can be incredibly useful in reducing conflict, building relationships and improving the ways that teams function. Marketing and sales teams have also used the MBTI model to better understand their customers and tailor their communication so as to be more persuasive to the personality types that were most common in their customer base.

Other personality tools, such as the CPI260 assessment, can be very useful in selecting and recruiting the right employees for front end customer roles, but it is very important that HR and recruitment teams are really clear about exactly what personality traits they are looking for. The attributes contributing to success in a consumer call center might be very different from those needed for sales of high-end systems.