Introversion can seem like a limitation for many professional women. We have enough trouble advocating for ourselves in the workplace as it is – especially in the male-saturated tech industry. Finding it difficult to speak up, actively promote yourself and make connections can leave you feeling defeated, like you’ll never get anywhere.
But not all is lost.
Introversion isn’t a weakness or something to be ashamed of. For many women, it’s actually a superpower – something you can harness and use to your advantage.
Introverts can absolutely nail networking and build successful careers.
The problem with introversion in the workplace
It’s viewed negatively, when it shouldn’t be
While we’re often taught that introversion is a ‘bad’ thing – it’s not.
Preferring introversion isn’t the same as being shy, anxious, depressed, insecure or flawed. The dictionary defines it as: “A disposition that is taxed by social engagement and energized by calm environments, resulting in the tendency to prefer quiet solitude.”
According to psychology, it’s “the act of directing one’s interest inward or to things within the self.”
Introversion and extroversion aren’t black and white, but rather a spectrum we all fall onto. You may be more introverted or more extroverted, but you’re not one or the other.
Introverts possess skills and qualities that should be celebrated, like being:
- True listeners,
- Good observers,
- Deep thinkers,
- And yes, even leadership skills.
It needs to be understood at a personal level
The COVID-19 pandemic saw many self-confessed introverts take to social media, celebrating their newfound liberation to stay at home. But lockdowns taught many that they were ‘more extroverted’ than they thought.
Research revealed that introverts actually experienced the psychosocial and affective impact of social distancing and lockdown measures more severely than their extroverted counterparts. It’s important to note that introversion isn’t about ‘wanting to stay home’. It’s about spending time alone in thought.
Lockdowns sometimes boosted social interactions – albeit virtual interactions such as Zoom meetings and social events. This style of social engagement can still be draining, but you can learn to excel at virtual networking as an introvert just the same.
Using your introversion to your advantage starts with understanding what gives you energy in life. Making an effort to learn what energizes you may lead to changes in how you operate, such as:
- Managing your time differently
- Structuring your days and weeks in a certain way
- Pursuing the right job at the right organization
- Choosing to work alongside certain people (introverts tend to thrive under extrovert bosses).
It’s viewed differently in different cultures
In many cultures around the world, introversion is viewed as a character flaw synonymous with shyness or social anxiety. This incorrect assumption can make it difficult for introverts to secure leadership positions.
For example, in the US only 39% of executives prefer introversion to extroversion. Globally, this figure is 56.8%, highlighting that other cultures value introversion over extroversion.
In Asian cultures, for example, introversion is preferred. Melbourne leadership and culture consultant Megumi Miki says, “Humility is valued a lot [in Asian culture] … you don’t brag about your achievements.”
Countries with the most introverted senior managers and executives include:
While countries with the least amount of introverted leaders include:
So before you go believing that your introverted tendencies will limit you in the workplace, look to societies that prize leaders like you. (Not to mention world-famous introverts like Bill Gates, Rosa Parks, and Abraham Lincoln.)
How to seize the power of introversion
Introverts typically aren’t comfortable promoting themselves. This makes networking a challenge. But there are some things you can do to override the awkwardness, leverage your introvert superpowers and get ahead in your career.
Give yourself time to think
Introverts’ energies are focused inwards, so they tend to need a lot of thinking space. In a networking environment, that can get awkward. 30 seconds of silence while you think up a suitable answer can feel jarring.
Learn to give yourself time to think. Set aside time before meetings and events to do some thinking and planning. There’s also nothing wrong with saying, “I’ll need to think about that” and sending a response later on via email.
People love to talk about themselves. Showing that you care by asking questions and listening intently is flattering and leaves a good impression.
Don’t feel pressured to jump in and say something insightful to ‘prove yourself’. Just listen, and respond when it feels natural.
Advocate for your preferred communication style
Many managers and colleagues like to talk things out and find a solution straight away. They may seek you out at your desk or give you a call expecting immediate answers. In a networking scenario, you may struggle to participate in large group discussions.
Don’t feel pressured to communicate in a way that doesn’t suit you. Ask your colleague to schedule a meeting later that day so you can think and prepare in advance for the conversation. Intentionally strike up one-on-one conversations at events, rather than entering larger groups.
Replenish your energy levels
By nature, introverts need time alone or in a quiet environment to recharge. This is important for your wellbeing, and it’s not a flaw.
Schedule time between your meetings, or plan a rest after a networking event to ensure you recover your energy.
Takeaway tips for networking as an introvert
Understand where introversion may hold you back
- You may be overlooked for opportunities because you’re often standing back, observing and keeping your thoughts to yourself rather than acting on them.
- You may ‘overthink’ things and not speak up for fear of saying the wrong thing. Pausing and thinking during a conversation can be seen as displaying uncertainty or not being capable.
Understand the unique strengths of introverts
- Listening, thinking and drawing insights
- Being highly focused
- Empathising with others
- Maintaining close and deep relationships
- Leading a team of proactive people. Introverts are good at listening to suggestions and supporting employees’ efforts.
Shift your mindset
- Approach conversations as an opportunity to share what you have to offer, not ‘promote yourself’.
- Talk about your skills, interests and values.
- As an introvert, you’re probably good at this! Think through potential questions or conversations in advance so you feel more confident and prepared.
- The more you practice networking, the more confident you’ll feel about it.
- You could role-play in front of the mirror, with a friend, or with the support of a professional mentor.
Fake it till you make it
- Research shows that ‘acting’ outgoing or energetic makes people happier – whether they’re introverted or extroverted.
- Set goals to speak up at a meeting, strike up a conversation with a stranger, or do something adventurous.
Use your network wisely
- Keep in touch with your new contacts by sending follow-up emails or organising catch-ups.
- Don’t let your hard-earned networking efforts go to waste – leverage your network for career success!
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