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  • Writer's pictureMiles McLeod

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace…but what about personality?

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) – two key words that sit firmly on the corporate agenda of any modern organisation. They are core values held by not just organisations, but also societies, and are now influencing workplace design and behaviours in a big way. However, is there something crucial that is being overlooked when discussing D&I in post-Covid workplace design?

A snappy strapline for understanding D&I is ‘diversity is a fact; inclusion is an act’. If we dissect that statement and take ‘diversity is a fact, this means that diversity is the reality that we live in. A society doesn’t choose to be diverse; it is diverse and is made up of a wide variety of different characteristics – which are protected by law in the UK’s Equality Act 2010. The protected characteristics were identified as age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Now onto the ‘inclusion is an act’ part, simply put, it’s the act of not discriminating against anyone based on their protected characteristics.

So, what am I getting at? There is no denying that inclusivity of protected characteristics is always important when placemaking, but what about personality? It is one of our most conspicuous attributes that defines who we are, how we think and how we act, so surely it should be the focal point of creating the optimal post-Covid workplace that is accessible, but more importantly attractive, to all?

Workplace trends

If we look at some of 2022’s most prominent workplace trends, a lot of them focus on making the workplace a destination that is a catalyst for social interaction, camaraderie, and networking – nurturing social capital and drawing influence from the hospitality sector to differentiate the corporate office from the home office. The reality that social capital is intangible is probably the only reason why it is not at the top of workplace design KPIs. It is unmeasurable but can be broken down into the three key components known as the three Cs: community, collaboration, and camaraderie. ‘Community’ in a workplace engenders a sense of inclusivity and appreciation of different personalities, however, what does collaboration and camaraderie look like to an introverted person who is happy and productive working from home? Probably a little unpleasant…and that’s before we even consider neurodiversity, which we’ll touch on later.

The diversity in personality types

So why is it so important to consider personality types in workplace and wellbeing strategy? For starters, just the sheer breadth of different personalities is enough to keep HR and People teams on their toes when making key decisions and defining a strategy. The binary categorisation of introvert and extrovert is somewhat outdated, and whether we refer to the four DiSC personality types or the 16 identified by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), it is clear that the strategy behind workplace design must at least recognise the diversity of personalities to make the office truly inclusive.

Personalities and unconscious bias

An inclusive organisation is one that rewards those of all personality types, but historically, this has been an inconspicuous downfall of many organisations, leaders, and managers. Organisations tend to value and reward those who are more confident, outgoing, sociable, and action-oriented (often referred to as extroverts), over those who are more reserved, reflective, shy, and self-aware (often referred to as introverts). This unconscious bias is often systemic and can be attributed to human nature, but organisations should embrace a more inclusive view of what constitutes ideal characteristics and the successes that they can bring.

The principle of unconscious bias towards certain personality types is something that could apply in workplace design. Settings and spaces that may be provided to facilitate activities that favour a certain type of person, could possibly make those of a contrasting personality feel undervalued, neglected, or overwhelmed. For example, think of the open plan office and desk sharing – ideal for those who are energised by social interaction, but a nightmare for those who are exhausted by it.

The prevalence of neurodiversity

It is estimated that 15-20% of the world's population are neurodiverse, meaning almost 1 in 5 of us exhibit cognitive conditions such as ADHD, Autism, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia or Tourette’s Syndrome. This is another layer of considerations for a truly inclusive workplace that has holistic design at its core. People’s experience of a workplace is entirely dependent on how it stimulates their senses, and for those who are neurodivergent, even the smallest changes in the environment or the most obscure trigger that is outside of one’s comfort zone can lead to the whole experience being uncomfortable or overwhelming – this is known as sensory overload. Imagine the buzzy breakout space during the prime lunchtime period on a Thursday, and how this could be overstimulating for people who prefer quieter environments due to their type of neurodivergence. This could have a significant impact on their mood, productivity, and wellbeing for the remainder of the working day, or possibly even longer term if experienced regularly.

This cookie-cutter approach is not used to create people, so the same should apply for the workplace. This is something that we’ve known for decades and the concepts of agile, activity based, flexible and – more recently – hybrid working are just a demonstration of that fact. Recognising and appreciating diversity is the first step in creating inclusive workplaces, but diversity must not be constrained to just the protected characteristics, it should stretch into the realms of personality and neurodivergence, and in doing so, we can start to create truly inclusive workplaces for all.

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