Written by Gabriel Rowan
Quiet by Susan Cain is an important book to me and a big reason why I transitioned from customer support to working in tech, so when I saw Women Who Code London was having a book club discussion about it online, I knew I had to go.
For anyone who hasn’t read the book or watched the TED talk, Quiet is about the hidden powers of introverts in cultures such as the US (and in my opinion, also the UK) where extroversion is the ideal. It’s about how business trends like brainstorming or the trend of more group work in schools can be especially difficult and unsuited for introverted personalities and how to tap into the wealth of strengths that can come with introversion.
The group opens up with a question about where people think they fall on the introvert/ extrovert spectrum. There’s a mixture of responses. I tentatively say I used to identify as an introvert but am now more of an ambivert. There are other ambiverts too, as well as many saying they are introverted to highly introverted.
Because of cultural ideals, how we are socialised growing up, and what is most rewarded in the workplace, knowing whether you are an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in the middle isn’t as straightforward as it might sound.
Rajani who grew up in India talks about how the cultural ideal there is more introverted, as there is a focus on studying and gaining expertise in playing musical instruments. She now sees herself as an extrovert but says the way she grew up led to acting like more of an introvert. In contrast, someone else shares the pressure in Turkey to be a social butterfly.
As well as nationally, we discuss how there can be different ideals from within families. Irina shares that, for her family, introversion was the ideal, with an emphasis on quietly getting to know things at a deep level. Sumeyya shares that being modest with your opinion was important in hers. It reminds me that we are all a patchwork of the different influences in our lives.
Can you always tell who is an introvert and who is an extrovert? Our discussion moves onto the concept of being a high or low self-monitor, which relates to your ability to mirror the behaviour of the people around you. One person shares that she is able to be bubbly and outgoing in short bursts, but that it’s far from her normal mode of being. We also talk about neurodivergence and how autistic women often fall under the diagnosis radar precisely because of how skilled they become at self-monitoring and learning how to follow socially acceptable rules.
Ultimately, when it comes to introversion, extroversion, or being somewhere in between, it’s never about what is objectively ‘the best’ thing to be, but leaning into what feels most authentic and natural to you. Many share their preference for working from home, someone discusses how they find booking 1:1 meetings with members of their team as the most effective way for them to lead, and we also talk about the best choice of work team-building activities to suit a range of personalities (spoiler alert, it’s not a team sports day out).
Between us, there is a range of different preferences (I personally like going into the office, especially as a junior developer), leadership styles, activities we gravitate to and motivations that drive us. It reminds me that, even though women and non-binary people are underrepresented in tech, it is also about so much more than us simply being present in these roles. It’s also about finding ways to thrive in these roles based on understanding our own blend of extroversion and introversion. In effect, it’s not about striving to fit the mould in tech but shaping the mould and making it work for you.