Georgia Tech Creates the First ERG for Introverts By Cheryl D. Cofield Director of Culture, Diversity & Inclusion Georgia Institute of Technology  Since first...

Georgia Tech Creates the First ERG for Introverts

By Cheryl D. Cofield
Director of Culture, Diversity & Inclusion
Georgia Institute of Technology 

“As I began recognizing the complex nature of my own temperament. I realized that, while I had been sort of ‘playing an extrovert on TV’ to survive the aggressively fast-paced, results-driven corporate culture of my former employer, it was actually safe to ‘come out’ of my introverted closet to embrace my truer nature in the more cerebral and introspective academic environment at Georgia Tech.”  –Cheryl Cofield

“As I began recognizing the complex nature of my own temperament. I realized that, while I had been sort of ‘playing an extrovert on TV’ to survive the aggressively fast-paced, results-driven corporate culture of my former employer, it was actually safe to ‘come out’ of my introverted closet to embrace my truer nature in the more cerebral and introspective academic environment at Georgia Tech.” –Cheryl Cofield

Since first opening its doors in 1888, the Georgia Institute of Technology has long been known for its culture of academic excellence, and for fostering technological advances and innovation. As a science and technology-focused learning institute, Georgia Tech is renowned for its deeply held commitment to improving the human condition. Now, members of the Georgia Tech employee community are developing innovative ways to hardwire inclusive excellence into the campus’s DNA, and increase community and organizational effectiveness by sustaining a work environment where all employees feel supported, valued, respected, productive, and engaged.

In September 2013, Georgia Tech, through the Office of Human Resources (OHR), created the nation’s first Employee Resource Group (ERG) specifically for introverts, called “Web of Brilliance” (Web). In addition to offering staff and faculty a true “sense of belonging,” and enriching the overall employment experience by contributing to a campus environment where employees feel supported, valued, and respected, Web provides a safe forum for introverts to explore their unique gifts and examine the “quiet” nature of their significant contributions.

Since introverts are generally modest and reserved people who rarely seek the limelight, their strengths are often masked and their intellectual depth is often discounted or overlooked. The ERG educates those who work with introverts, brings active awareness to the impact introversion has on work style, and provides insights into the challenges introverts face in extrovert-ideal workplaces. It also dispels notions that extroversion is “right” and introversion is somehow “wrong” by reframing introversion as an interesting aspect of identity.

The introvert group is the first of its kind in the US. The approach to managing the group is, therefore, being “birthed” day by day. It is managed by introverts with introvert sensibilities in mind; there is a spaciousness to the approach which leaves room to think, room to breathe, room to reflect, and room for people to be who we are with no forced “extroverting” required.

More than 130 staff, administration, and faculty members attended the initial kickoff meeting for Web, where they broke the ice by sharing poignant “Six Word Memoirs” and engaged in a think tank/affinity mapping reflection collage, resulting in more than 200 ideas toward the ERG’s annual business plan.

Putting Our Plan into Action

As a part of the plan, we’re developing introvert-friendly hiring processes and procuring “job aids” to enhance each introvert’s ability to thrive in the Georgia Tech workplace. For instance, we’re recommending headphones with apps containing “white noise” or “pink noise,” as well as magnets, mugs, and T-shirts, over-the-door hangers, and cube curtains containing messages like “Introvert at Work.” We’re also creating official protocols for proactive reflection, designating areas as introvert “chill zones,” and lobbying for the configuration of serene, calming spaces designed for introspection and thoughtfulness—that is, designed with visual and acoustic separation, and little outside sensory stimulation or distraction.

In 2014–15, we’ll spread the good word of Georgia Tech’s pioneering innovation by creating a blog for introverts, branding introvert-related collateral, showcasing the school’s introverted executives and leaders, and sharing thought leadership at national and global conferences. We already presented ERG-related sessions with Princeton and MIT at the College and University Professional Association Annual Conference and Expo. We also presented on the impact introversion has on work style and the challenges introverts face in extrovert-ideal workplaces for The Conference Board and Atlanta Diversity Management Advocacy Group. We’ve also been tapped to make similar presentations at a plethora of upcoming national conferences, including The Conference Board’s 2014 Corporate Diversity & Inclusion Conference, Linkage’s Institute for Leading Diversity and Inclusion, and the Society for Diversity’s 2014 Diversity Leadership Retreat.

We’ll continue collecting data to better understand the nature and needs of introverts, create a resource guide titled How to Manage Introverts: A Guide for Extroverts, by Introverts, and a resource that helps reframe perceptions, dispel myths, and break stereotypes. In future months, we’ll engage introverted employees through special interest groups such as TED Talk discussion circles, local/regional/national “travel clubs” that tour state-of-the-art innovation centers, and a “Special Edition Toastmasters” tailored for introverts. Finally, later this spring, we’ll begin designing a professional development series focused on embracing the unique strengths of introverts, getting noticed, becoming better conversationalists and public speakers, and developing strategies to ensure the success of introverted students and leaders.

Since Georgia Tech is one of the few places where it actually is about rocket science—where the nature of the work is analytical, contemplative, and life-changing—we honor the desire many people have to put down the “extrovert mask,” and we respect their preference to be left alone to perfect equations and formulas, produce one-of-a-kind works, and otherwise improve the human condition.

And finally, because Georgia Tech is renowned for fostering innovation, we think it is fitting to categorize introversion as a dimension of diversity and develop innovative ways to support and affirm staff, faculty, and students who represent this important, yet rarely talked about, diversity profile.

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