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The Next Frontier in Diversity: Should Personality Discrimination be Legally Banned?

So many unfair behaviors are not legally discrimination, even if in real life they reflect unfair or unequal treatment. Discrimination against races, genders, disabilities, gay marriages and so on has all been legally proscribed. Could there be any forms of discrimination left?

Well yes, although it hasn’t become fashionable yet, but maybe it will. After all diversity lawyers have to have a job right? So here’s one form that yours truly has been thinking about, namely discrimination on the basis of personality.

Before you guffaw, let’s talk about what I mean. It doesn’t means that people with a certain type of personality are just not liked, or occasionally laughed at (which of course, does happen). What it means that people with certain personalities are discriminated against systematically in such a way that it leaves them in a worse position than other people in professional or social terms without that personality just because they have that personality.

Let’s take an example that I have seen often. It mainly has to do with introverts and extroverts. It’s not uncommon to see companies that have strong technical or engineering cultures that in their own way discriminate against salespeople, who are, of course, mainly extroverts.

In such companies salespeople are looked down on and often won’t get into management because the reigning culture stereotypes them as being frat boys, loud, obnoxious and crude. That they might possess elements of all of these characteristics doesn’t mean any the less that they are being discriminated against on the basis of their extroverted personality.

I have also seen the reverse, discrimination against introverts. They are often discriminated against within companies that have a strong sales culture where signs of strong introversion and introspection are looked down upon, shunned or even viewed as being cowardly. In such companies the introverts usually leave, leading to a monoculture of extroverts. The same happens in the companies where extroverts are discriminated against, leading in this case to a monoculture of introverts.

Of course, I’m not saying that this discrimination happens just with introverts or extroverts. It happens with many different personalities. There are some companies that discriminate against analytical types (usually they are ruled by intuitives who reject what they see as being obsessive, detail-oriented or academically-tinged behavior). And of course you get the opposite, the companies ruled by analyticals who discriminate against the people with great gut feel which the analyticals often despise as being crass, uninformed or even ignorant.

The signs of discrimination with personality are often subtle and hard to pick up, just as they are with more traditional forms of discrimination such as racial or gender. People may have a pretty good idea that they are not behaving in a fair manner so often the discrimination gets baked into a culture in subtle ways which are hard to pick up for an outsider. But they still exist anyway.

The results of personality discrimination are not dissimilar to other forms. It’s harder for people to become promoted in companies where this is practiced. Their salaries will generally be lower. They will receive less job opportunities within the company and less access to non-prescribed benefits. In essence they will be treated as not part of the club that unofficially exists in the company; yes, I hate to say it, even as a kind of inferior race.

Many people might believe that the focus on diversity in numerous companies, especially larger ones, means that personality discrimination doesn’t exist there. But that’s not always the case, for example in tech companies. A focus on diversity particularly means that racial, gender and maybe physical (as in physical disability) diversity in these areas is accepted.

But since personality discrimination hasn’t made it into the pantheon of equality laws yet, it is often tolerated and even required, the more so since it isn’t recognized generally as being undesirable at the very least.

Just as was the case with other, earlier forms of discrimination, people might dismiss the idea that there is personality discrimination or that, if there is, it’s just innocent and the way people naturally are. But there are people out there who have suffered such discrimination all of their lives and who would strongly disagree. The fact that there is no formal or legal recognition of the issue increases their frustration just as it did with other forms.

If people feel discriminated against, the chances are that it is really happening in practice. We people on the other side need to take note.







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