How to Break the Introverted Glass Ceiling

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on August 07, 2018

In an ideal world, personality type would not be a predictor of career success. But, we don't live in an ideal world.

Evidence tells us that ENTJs and ESTJs make the highest salaries, ENTJs manage the most employees, and an ENTJ is the most likely personality type to become a CEO. If you're an ISFP, ISTP, INFP, INTP or INFJ, then you can expect to earn around half as much on average as your typical EXTJ – partly because you are much less likely to land a supervisory role. And even if you do make the jump into management, the chances are extremely slim that you'll be trusted with a very large team. Despite the job requiring infinite patience and focus, it's mostly Extraverts who get to manage 20+ employees.

Do Introverts face a glass ceiling? This data certainly suggests they do. And there's a frustration stirring, about being undervalued and misunderstood, or having to act like something they're not just to get their talents recognized in an Extravert-dominated workplace.

So what does it take for Introverts to get a seat at the big boy's table? How can they be heard?

What is the Introverted Glass Ceiling?

When we talk about glass ceilings, we're referring to an unfair cap on how far a person can advance based on some attribute that isn't essential to the job. Women often face the glass ceiling due to certain stereotypes about their abilities: "Women can't handle the pressure," for example, or "We didn't think she'd want that much responsibility." Therefore, women might be promoted less often than their male colleagues, even if they're at least as qualified for the job.

When Introverts hit the glass ceiling, it's based on a similar set of prejudices. How often have you heard the following?

"He's too quiet. He needs to speak up more."

"She thinks things over too much. She needs to be more decisive and learn to take action."

"He's not very sociable. He needs to build his interpersonal skills."

"She doesn't really stand out in team meetings. She needs to be more assertive."

"He's just not a natural leader. We need someone who's going to be tough."

The big problem with repeating these messages is it reinforces the idea that introversion is a defect that needs to be corrected and introverted personalities are too weak to make it to the top.

What Introverts Actually Bring to the Table

Far from being weak, Introverts possess a number of traits that not only are an asset in senior work roles, they're also the traits that disgraced leaders have visibly lacked. (Take a detour through the biographies of Uber's Travis Kalanick, Enron's Ken Lay and MF Global's Jon Corzine, for example, and you'll see how excessive risk-taking and ruthless dominance – traits of extraversion on steroids – can bring down companies when left unchecked.)

Here's what introverts bring to the management table:

Prudence. Yes, it sounds boring, but managers and leaders who create stability, who keep a level head in a crisis and who avoid taking unnecessary risks create solid and successful teams. Introverts think things through and don't take impulsive actions. Their team members are not thrown off balance by rapid and unexpected changes of direction or sudden emotional shifts.

Humility: It's sad that we don't place much value on the trait of humility since a healthy sense of our own limitations is essential for reaching our goals. The humble person is more likely to admit that she doesn't have all the answers and to incorporate other people's ideas into the overall plan. One study linked the virtue of humility to a leadership style described as "servant leadership." These leaders foster good performance by focusing on the growth, well-being and reciprocity of their teams.

Constructive communication: Introverts are often accused of being poor and reluctant communicators, but what they actually do is patient listening. They allow others to speak and spend a lot of time engaging in calm and constructive debate. This thorough and inclusive approach allows them to make considered decisions that are focused on the "why?" and "is this the right thing to do?" rather than the extraverted approach of "let's just do it!"

Productive rather than competitive: Introverts are really not at home in the battleground of meetings and individual competition, preferring to reflect and collaborate over making snap decisions. Instead, they're motivated by productivity, of getting the job done for the good of the project without being sidetracked by ego or the thrill of winning the debate. This perhaps explains why Introverts are more effective leaders of proactive teams than Extraverts.

How to Break the Glass Ceiling

As Introverts gain greater recognition in the workplace, it's imperative they are empowered with the right kind of confidence and attitude to step up and go beyond. Here are a few tips:

1. Don't listen to the stereotypes about introversion or apologize for your acting on your personality traits. Advancement means putting yourself on the radar and actually believing you can succeed in a high-level role. So, tell your boss know that you're working toward a higher position and ask what skill areas you need to develop. Organizations promote people who show gumption. Owning your talent is a big part of that.

2. If you manage others, think very carefully about whether you are enabling any type of personality prejudice in your team. Introverts are not all shy, socially awkward wallflowers who prefer solitude to company! Perception has a real effect on the prospects of Introverts and one of the ways to change that is by demonstrating how capable they are. Help your team to understand how Introverts work best and model that behavior, for example, by circling back to the Introvert at the end of a meeting so they have time to think about their response.

3. Understand that Introverts underestimate their abilities while (some) Extraverts overestimate theirs. In reality, the quality of their performances do not differ. If you find yourself questioning your accomplishments or being too modest, ask yourself, would an ENTJ ever question herself like that? Keep a list of everything you do that makes a difference and be direct about these contributions. You have to announce your abilities even though you're so self-critical on the inside.

4. Don't confuse fear with stereotypes. It's tempting to put roadblocks in your own way by saying, "Oh, I could never give a great presentation because I'm an Introvert." That's not true! Standing at the front of the room is not your natural place, and that's your introversion talking. But it doesn't mean you can't do it. Sometimes, Introverts have to step out of their own comfort zones and inhabit some of the spaces that Extraverts monopolize in order to open up doors for their own growth.

5. Finding a mentor is a powerful way to break through the introverted glass ceiling. The barriers that Introverts face have been there for a long time, and a mentor can help you get connected with the tools, tips, people and resources that can help your professional development and growth. Managers – a formal mentoring program is especially valuable for the Introverts on your team since they do not discriminate by personality type. This can ensure equal access to mentors who Introverts may struggle to connect with on their own.

Final Thoughts

The belief that the best leader is the most dominant leader has been part of our workplace culture for too long. Fortunately, the tide is turning and we are entering an era where the quiet, thoughtful person is respected. These wizards of preparation instinctively dig deep into problems, are better listeners and keep their cool when others are losing theirs. If that translates to generating revenue for the company, then everyone's a winner.

Sheryl Sandberg once said, "In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders." Let's hope the prediction rings just as true for Introverts.

Jayne Thompson

Jayne is a B2B tech copywriter and the editorial director here at Truity. When she’s not writing to a deadline, she’s geeking out about personality psychology and conspiracy theories. Jayne is a true ambivert, barely an INTJ, and an Enneagram One. She lives with her husband and daughters in the UK. Find Jayne at White Rose Copywriting.

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About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


Jara (not verified) says...

"One study linked the virtue of humility to a leadership style described as "servant leadership." These leaders foster good performance by focusing on the growth, well-being and reciprocity of their teams." - Jayne Thompson 

"Servant leadership" is how church folks describe Jesus' leadership style. He definitely came to earth with an introvert's personality type to FLIP THE WORLD INFRASTRUCTURE UPSIDE DOWN.

Therefore, Christian introverts who have learned to follow Jesus in leadership style are excellent leaders who have the ability to save or resurrect a dead organization by drastically improving team morale, mindset, and methods. I am living proof of that! God always uses the least likely to succeed according to worldly standards to complete His missions because He gets more glory out of us when we do succeed exceedingly more than anyone else.

So Jesus (an INFP male) always sends me, an introverted woman of color(!), to consistently bust through "ceilings" and stereotypes that prohibit an organization from prospering. The turnaround results are immediate and measurable, which no self-respecting TJ can intelligently refute. ?

John 13:1‭-‬17 NLT

Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.  It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God.

So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”

Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”

Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”

Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.”  

For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing?  You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am.  And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.  I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.  I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message.  Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them."

Luke 22:24‭-‬30 NLT

Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them.

Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men Lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’  But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.  Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.

“You have stayed with me in my time of trial.  And just as my Father has granted me a Kingdom, I now grant you the right  to eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. And you will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

Luke 21:7‭-‬19 NLT

“Teacher,” they asked, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to take place?”

He replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and saying, ‘The time has come!’ But don’t believe them.  And when you hear of wars and insurrections, don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place first, but the end won’t follow immediately.”  

Then he added, “Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven.

“But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers.  But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me.  So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you,  for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you!  Even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you. They will even kill some of you.  And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.  But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls."

Luke 24:1‭-‬12 NLT

But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes. The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened.

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. However, Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened.

John 20:1‭-‬18 NLT

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.

She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings.

Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. Then they went home.

Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying.

“Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him.

“Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her.

“Who are you looking for?” She thought he was the gardener.

“Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

“Mary!” Jesus said. She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

“Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!”

Then she gave them his message.

1 Corinthians 1:26‭-‬31 NLT

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.

Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.”

Diana47 (not verified) says...

This was fascinating to me, making the connection between introvert leadership style and biblical servanthood. I can totally see it! I'm curious about Jesus being typed as an INFP--mainly because I'm one myself, and I don't think I've ever heard that before? Where did you come up with that? That was mind-blowing, and I'll be thinking that over for days. 

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