Company Culture

Rebuttal to NYT: Personality Tests Can Promote Inclusion

As CEO of a company that provides a human capital assessment for the workplace, it was sad to read Ms. Jackson-Wright’s article about her negative team experience with a personality test. Unfortunately, however, it’s not altogether surprising. All too frequently, personality tests assign a type or a category, confining an individual to a few limiting labels, and not all “personality tests” are based on rigorous social science. Since humans are complicated, this can be dangerous.

Created by my father, The Birkman Method was originally designed for the workplace and has endured for nearly seven decades primarily because it is multi-dimensional and reflects the innate complexity of people. The Birkman looks at our perceptions and behaviors on multiple levels: how we see ourselves, how we relate to others, what we expect from them, along with what most engages and motivates us. In short, how do we, in all our essential diversity best contribute to those around us, to our teams?

In recent years, there’s been a great deal of positive attention paid to the importance of making workplaces more inclusive and diverse. As well as realizing that diversity must be about more than ethnic, generational, or gender diversity. Social diversity includes a healthy variety of personal styles and perceptions. It’s tempting for leaders to hire “in their own image,” but successful teams and organization require a wide-ranging diversity of individual styles. This definition of diversity is about contrasting temperaments and varied career interests, and these factors are woven into a tapestry of traits that most of us would call our “personality.”

Team-mates with different behavioral traits.

It was painful to read that the author felt like an outsider when she was singled out as an introvert in an environment dominated by extroverts. Since Susan Cain’s groundbreaking best-seller in 2012, the power of introverts has become better recognized, but in her case, it doesn’t sound as though her value as the sole introvert was sufficiently brought to light. My guess is that her independent, thoughtful (introvert) gifts might have enriched her team and could have been viewed by the facilitator as an asset, the person who could bring a special perspective needed by her team. The reality is, for every successful team and organization, a deep and wide diversity of attributes, styles, and perceptions should be part of inclusion. Tempting though it is, one of the most damaging things a leader can do is hire in their own image, something that happens all too often.

At Birkman International, we provide an instrument that reveals the multi-faceted ways people view themselves and perceive others along with the job and career interests they bring to the team. Unfortunately, any assessment can be misused or poorly administrated by the facilitator. Whenever there’s a team-building exercise, it’s important for the team to know that every individual’s traits bring needed strengths. There’s never a one-size-fits-all. What every team needs most is an emphasis on including these diverse traits since no one can be successful all alone. We need the complementary strengths of others, and for this reason, teams will always be critical to every company’s success.

For an introvert, it can be difficult to be heard if the more outgoing extroverts dominate the airtime, but it’s often the more reserved introverts who, when given a chance to speak, have the very best ideas. There’s every possibility the author of this article brings a much-needed balance to her team. I hope that at some point in her future, Ms. Jackson-Wright will find another opportunity to do a team-building where essential diversity of type and behavioral styles are celebrated, where her introversion is recognized as a necessary attribute for her team, and where the facilitator will use an assessment that promotes a profound appreciation for personal complexity, essential diversity and compassionate, understanding inclusion. This is what she deserves.

About the Author | Sharon Birkman

Sharon Birkman began her role as Birkman International’s President and CEO in 2002, becoming Chairman in 2022. As the daughter of company founder and influential industrial-organizational psychologist, Dr. Roger W. Birkman, Sharon cultivated her deep expertise in human perception and organizational behavior through her lifelong interest in The Birkman Method. Before succeeding Dr. Birkman as CEO, Sharon served in several roles including VP Corporate Relations, Training, and Career Coaching. Sharon’s leadership has been instrumental ushering in a new era of product development, technology, and training initiatives during a time of unprecedented growth. In this period, Sharon and the business have been recognized with a multitude of awards. These include EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2016, the Women President’s Organization’s Mary Lehman MacLachlan Award for Economic Empowerment in 2017, Houston’s Best and Brightest Places to Work For from 2014-2019, National Best and Brightest Places to Work For (2014-2018), the Houston Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business Award in 2017 and 2018, and as a Houston Power 50 Woman Leader in 2018.