Eliminating the Introvert Leadership (and Pay!) Gap

by | Mar 27, 2024

I recently came across a statistic that almost made my introverted head explode. Get this: introverts earn nearly $10,000 less on average than their extraverted counterparts.

My immediate thought was, how can that possibly be true?

This was followed quickly by the thought, of course it is.

We live in a world where most professional environments are set up – inadvertently so – to fuel and help extraverted individuals perform at their best. And the ways in which employees are evaluated – through formal performance reviews as well as the day-to-day assessments of how much and how well they contribute – are centered on typically extraverted traits and strengths. Think: outgoing personality, loves to network, shares a laundry list of ideas at every meeting, shines on the stage with their charisma and charm, etc., etc.

Through this lens is the widespread misconception that extraverts make better leaders. Society tends to value qualities like assertiveness and charisma, traits that are often associated with extraversion. This bias can lead decision-makers to favor extraverts when it comes to promotions and leadership opportunities, even if introverts possess the necessary skills and expertise.

Indeed, extraverts often take “center stage” at work. This leaves many introverted professionals standing in the shadows, while extraverts are more readily promoted into leadership roles.

This is not my opinion. As Marissa Tomei famously said in her role as Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinny, “It’s a fact!”

While half of the U.S. population is extraverted, approximately 96% of U.S. leaders are extraverted.

In addition to limiting the success, earning potential, and fulfillment of introverts, the practice of disproportionately promoting extraverts into leadership roles may actually be to the detriment of a whole team or organization. Studies show that introverts perform as well, and often better, than extraverts in positions of leadership.

How can introverts demonstrate they’ve got “the stuff” to be leaders?

Here’s the truth: the world of leadership is not exclusively reserved for the outgoing and gregarious. But also true, given the above disparities, is that you as an introvert need to change the paradigm of how your strengths and gifts are assessed as “leadership material.”

Here are some steps you can take to do this:

  1. Proactively seek out leadership development opportunities: Take charge of your professional growth by enrolling in workshops or courses focused on leadership skills. By investing in yourself, you not only enhance your abilities but also increase your visibility within the organization.
  2. Volunteer for leadership roles in smaller projects: Start small by taking on leadership responsibilities in smaller-scale projects or initiatives. This allows you to demonstrate your abilities and prove your potential as a leader in a low-pressure environment.
  3. Advocate for yourself during performance reviews: Don’t be afraid to speak up about your accomplishments and express your interest in leadership roles during performance evaluations or discussions with supervisors. Highlight your strengths and contributions, making it clear that you’re ready to take on more responsibilities.
  4. Seek out mentors or sponsors: Find mentors or sponsors within your organization who can support and advocate for your leadership potential. They can offer guidance, feedback, and help navigate any bias in decision-making processes, increasing your chances of being considered for leadership roles.
  5. Educate decision-makers on the value of diverse leadership styles: Take initiative in educating decision-makers about the strengths introverted leaders (or potential leaders) bring to the table. Emphasize the benefits of diverse leadership styles, such as deep listening, thoughtful decision-making, and a focus on collaboration. By challenging stereotypes and showcasing the unique advantages of introverted leadership, you can help shift perceptions and create opportunities for yourself and others.

Remember, being an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t be a successful leader. It’s more likely to mean that you can be an exceptional leader.

Your quiet strength, analytical thinking, and ability to connect deeply with others are valuable assets in any leadership role. But you need to make this happen. Your colleagues, managers, and organizational leaders are not going to just wake up one day and say, “Hey, we need to have more introverts in leadership roles here.”

By taking proactive steps to develop your skills, advocate for yourself, and challenge biases, you can carve out a path to leadership that shows them the light and aligns with your authentic self. Stay true to who you are, believe in your abilities, and never underestimate the power of introverted leadership. You’ve got this!