What is Diversity?

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you just didn’t fit?  There are lots of reasons that might be.  You could be a lone female in a room of males discussing football (actually, I’d love that if the topic were Nebraska Cornhuskers).  You could be an African American in a room full of white folks discussing conservative politics related to Black Lives Matter.  You could be a white male in a room full of angry “MeToo” women, planning their next march.   You could be an Asian American in a room full of people discussing the Japanese contribution to WWII.  You could be a gay individual sitting with a group laughing at Archie Bunker jokes about gays.

Or you could be an Introvert in a room full of Extroverts.

People misuse these terms.  Extraversion doesn’t necessarily mean overly gregarious, although it could. Introversion doesn’t necessarily mean shy, although it could.  These terms, coined by Carl Jung and evolved by Isabel Briggs Myers have very distinct meanings, but on a continuum of how they impact peoples’ preference for interaction.

Those who prefer introversion could be the most gregarious or vocal people you know.  But there are some characteristics they share that influence how they feel in a group.   My preference is introversion although most people are surprised to hear me say that. Over the years, I’ve become much more comfortable with expressing myself in groups but only when I am familiar with the subject under discussion.

Those who prefer introversion typically look inside themselves, process information internally, and generate their own energy through that process of introspection.  We reflect, ponder, and chew on things. It is more difficult for us to “think out loud,” without the benefit of reflection.

Those who prefer extraversion tend to be all about other people, and many take their energy from interacting with others, taking action and expressing their thoughts off the cuff, enjoying the banter and dialogue with others.  For some, the topic doesn’t matter – they’re in it for the energy that the external world brings to them. These are all generalizations, and most people fall somewhere on a continuum.

Or you could be a Thinker in a room full of Feelers

When I facilitate Myers Brigg workshops with clients, I often say that this is the one dichotomy of the four that most frequently causes conflict.  I make that statement not through empirical research, but from many years of observation.

One who prefers Thinking steps back from a situation to uncover logic and objectivity.  One who prefers Feeling dives right in to understand what folks involved are feeling.  Objectivity is not the purpose; the purpose is addressing the feelings and achieving harmony.

To uncover logic, the Thinker asks questions that may become uncomfortable, particularly with a Feeler who doesn’t really value the logic as much as she values the feelings of those involved.  These traits aren’t always obvious until the tension in the room says, “This is uncomfortable.”

Adding this to the concept of “diversity”

In a recent meeting on the topic of diversity, I found myself uncomfortable, like I didn’t belong.  I listened as several participants discussed the meaning of diversity and how to bring the topic of diversity into a room safely.

Most are very successful consultants who work with organizations to tease out the hidden bias we all have from time to time.  This hidden bias is front and center in today’s news, communities, and politics.  Most people probably agree that hidden bias gets in our way, as a country, in moving forward.

I absolutely agree.  The type of bias in my opening paragraph speaks to culture, gender, and race.  But it also speaks to what topic is being discussed – that those who might be different may only be uncomfortable when the topic is one that makes them squirm.  And perhaps it can even be the style of the meeting, whether calm and focused or energetic and wandering or somewhere in the middle.

Diversity of race, gender, culture is obvious.  What may not be so obvious is diversity of thought, of style, of “being.”  In the recent meeting, there was a bit of conversation that acknowledged that diversity isn’t always obvious and that makes me hopeful.

Figuring out the discomfort

In the meeting, I was uncomfortable, and I couldn’t quite figure out why.  I’ve attended those before and not been shy or quiet.  At one point I almost asked, “Is everyone here an extravert,” because hands were raised for minutes at a time, but everyone kept jumping in.  I wrote down ideas, trying to get my head around how I would contribute, but every time I thought I had a cogent thought the conversation went in a different direction.

And you know what?  That’s okay.  It is a joy to be part of a group that you just fit with.  These days, we’re so focused on making it okay for everyone that we lose those protected, shared group experiences where we can just be ourselves.  Where we can talk about golf, or conservative politics, or WWII, or even Archie Bunker.  We all need to feel like a part of something.

I had to wait until I processed the conversation before I responded

Of course, the introvert in me needed time to process so here I am, writing down my thoughts to share, well after the fact.  In no way do I suggest that the group stop, or even change their format.  I think I may have missed the memo that said we’re moving from a facilitated topic to a free-flow open discussion, but that’s on me.  I know now and thankfully, my attendance is optional.

Perhaps there is a lesson in balance here

As we think about diversity and our honest intention of engaging a wide and diverse audience, we might want to include the diversity of preference and behavior as an element for consideration.  This is only important, though, if the group wants diverse dialogue.  If the purpose of the meeting is for like minds to come together and enjoy each other, that’s a totally different purpose.

Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” as well as her TED talk “The Power of Introverts” makes a good case for how important it is to have balance, and how introverts in their reflection may unearth new ideas that need to be considered.

Groups who have a good balance of Thinkers and Feelers also exponentially improve their chance to consider all possibilities through the balance of logic and sensitivity.

Assuming that there are events that must include diversity of thought, here are some parameters that have worked for me to make sure that those with different styles don’t feel left out.

  • Give homework. Before anyone comes to a meeting, give them thinking questions that relate to the topic of the meeting.  That gives introverts the chance to identify and organize their thoughts so they can start right off contributing.  It also gives extraverts a chance to get some input from colleagues that might be helpful and different.
  • Schedule the meeting over two days. You may have a four-hour meeting, but if it’s possible, do two hours one day, and two hours the following with homework in between.  This gives everyone time to think independently or to discuss what was on the table in the meeting.
  • State the purpose and style of the meeting upfront. If free-flowing, make sure participants know that so they can make an informed decision if attending is optional.  If attending is not optional, consider your participants, and if there are introverts, change the style or you won’t hear from them.
  • Have ground rules. Let the participants define these rules at the beginning of the meeting which gives you, the facilitator, terrific insight into what matters to your participants.   Perhaps you can also ask the participants how they want those ground rules enforced – will they speak up, or do they expect the facilitator to monitor?

We are a diverse nation.  As we struggle to navigate this diversity, it is important to remember that diversity is not always visible. But diversity of thought is a powerful force that might, just possibly, obscure important ideas or issues.  If we are to move forward it will be important to see others’ realities, open hearts, and minds and learn from each other what we may not know ourselves.


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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  1. I participated in a group discussion on Zoom not that long ago, Carol, and we used the function of hiding the people totally who had not turned their cameras on.
    That way we could have a group where first the extroverted shared what it was like for them in a meeting with the introverted quietly and invisibly listening in. Then we reversed the group so the extroverted were quiet and invisible while listening in to the introverted who – for once – were not cut off in mid sentence or ignored completely.
    It was amazing how easily it was to forget that there were a handful of people more in the room when we couldn’t see or hear them.

    We could try it as a Friendship Bench experiment, Dennis.

    • Interesting exercise, Charlotte. I would love to explore the concept of real sharing with a group. I love to participate in a meeting where everyone, including me, is so excited to contribute that you just jump in with both feet. But for some, the more excited the group becomes, the less they want to participate. And to me, what we’re talking about makes a difference in what I contribute. There are so many variables that impact participation.

      Perhaps because so much of my work has been in team dynamics where the goal is to get ALL input, I am overly sensitive to the structure and style of a meeting. I know how to get everyone talking (or maybe just writing) but it really all boils down to the purpose of the meeting. If the purpose is to enjoy each others company, build relationships and share that is very different from working toward an outcome. I’m good at the second purpose, the first…not so much.

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Carol — I’m reminded of a study I read about in Chris Voss’ book, NEVER SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE. He quotes a UCLA study, which the researcher labeled as the “7-38-55 Percent Rule.”
    7% of our understanding of a spoken message is based on words
    38% of a message comes from the speaker’s tone of voice
    55% of a message comes from their body language

    The last two elements are taken in deliberately, instinctively, or missed altogether depending on the person. We’re not always aware of them because we’ve been trained / conditioned over the years to believe that what someone SAYS is what’s important.

    Emotionally intelligent people, though, are more deliberate about factoring in the last two elements of communication. In a conversation, even on ZOOM, they’re going to be sensitive to the speaker’s tone and body language.

    I’m an introvert in the classic sense, and when I’m in a group conversation – like the one I think you’re speaking of – I get amazed and more than a bit disappointed when many of the other speakers seemingly disregard others in the room. AKA a lack of EQ, a lack of appreciation for diversity. Their objective is to SPEAK – not to really listen and be curious about others.

    Some people would do well to be reminded of a great acronym that coaches learn in their training class: W.A.I.T. Why am I talking?

    • Love the WAIT, Jeff. It’s funny that the comments on LinkedIn tell me that I really didn’t make my point – that point you’re making. I used the rule of communication with my clients routinely, and underpin with MBTI simply because it makes people think about where someone else is coming from that might not be obvious to the conversation. There is a fantastic exercise called the Living Type Table that teases out where and why there might be a different in any one of the four dichotomies of MBTI. I’ve had a lot of “discussions” with those who don’t like MBTI, but if all you use it for is to start the dialogue and not build a steretype, it turns on many lightbulbs for people.

      Thanks for your comment.

    • Might be interesting at one of those gatherings to actually broach the idea of listening to learn instead of listening to respond. You probably have some good exercises from your previous work.

    • I think Dennis really likes the free-flowing formats of the Salon and the Friendship Bench. I think I’m just going to lay low for awhile.

      But all this dialogue about MBTI makes me want to find some clients and put this stuff to use. I love watching groups morph…. Our longest CEO client (7 years) just retired and we said we wanted to take the opportunity to take off the pack, but now I’m not so sure….

    • Nah, I’m just ducking. The knock is coming virtually from my better half. It’s one of my wife’s favorite expressions with me when I go on one of my whining jags.

    • Actually, Carol, the relatively unstructured approach to our forums has been driven by audience/participant feedback vs my preference. In many respects, your structured notion would be so much easier to manage/moderate from our end. However, Our experience has confirmed over time that while structure may more predictable & less intimidating, it doesn’t inspire free thinking & greater connection/sense of community. And indeed, “unstructured’ has become increasingly important to the next/millennial generations wishing to break free from the old/traditional “status quo’.

    • Hi Dennis – I understand that and certainly respect it. From my experience, it depends what you want as an outcome. If the outcome is relationships, those who want that type of relationship will come; others won’t. I don’t agree however with structure not inspiring free thinking. That may be true for some but I don’t believe that it is for all. Is is possible that those who are providing the input are the ones comfortable in the more free-flowing setting, but you’re not hearing from others?

    • Also have to say again – it depends on the outcome. My experience is with organizations and I know what works. This is not a formal organization and people are committing their time to things that matter to them. That’s not a bad thing at all. Sometimes it just takes me a bit to process and work through what seems to be wrong with me – that I don’t fit in.