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Introvert employees at 84.51° are supported to find their voice

Introvert employees at 84.51° are supported to find their voice

 November 19, 2019

The idea for ITOPiA began in an 84.51° conference room. Director of Consulting, Ryan Showalter, was sitting in a meeting surrounded by colleagues and, toward the end of the session, attendees were instructed to stand and announce a recent achievement that they were proud of in front of the entire group..The question worked its way around the room, dancing to a similar beat as answers complemented each other in one aspect or another. It wasn't until someone rose and shared a unique achievement that Showalter's ears perked up. The employee stood, cleared his throat, and announced that he was simply proud to be standing up to speak in a room full of people with no preparation.

This honesty struck a chord with Showalter; as a fellow introvert, he had experienced struggle excelling in a workplace where external stimulation was so highly prioritized over internal stimulation. Showalter's wheels began to turn; after the meeting, he pulled his coworker aside, and they discussed similar difficulties that arose as a result of their introversion. A friendship was formed… but also an exciting idea in Showalter's mind. And almost as quickly as their conversation began, the concept for ITOPiA, a people-led 'utopia' for introverts, was born.

The people led 'utopia' for introverts

So, what is ITOPiA, and what is its purpose? Before answering that question, you must first understand what it means to be introverted and what it does not mean. Introverts are commonly mischaracterized as 'shy' or 'socially awkward'. Not only are those misconceptions completely false, but they can be damaging to the education and inclusion of introverted individuals. To truly be inclusive, you must have a correct understanding of the word and its meaning. Introverts tend to be inward turning, or focused more on internal thoughts, feelings, and moods rather than seeking out external stimulation. Unlike extroverts who gain energy from social interaction, introverts have to expend energy in the same setting. Introverts may also feel the need to 'recharge' or relax after spending long periods surrounded by people. This is where inclusion becomes crucial.

ITOPiA has grown, morphed, and garnered support since that pivotal moment in an 84.51° conference room. Immediately following his lightbulb moment, Showalter helped to form small 'pods' where 84.51° employees could find community and involvement with fellow introverts. These pods quickly drew interest, especially from incoming college graduates, and it grew from there. Showalter then took the idea for ITOPiA to human resources, and a team-led initiative was put in place with leaders Showalter, Kristin Litchfield, and Meagan Connley. That's when the real work began.

"We honestly were not sure the response we would get," said Litchfield. "We wanted our coworkers to feel comfortable gathering and sharing, but at the same time, we know that can be intimidating in and of itself. We were happy to see ITOPiA did resonate with folks, and people truly did want to engage on a deeper level."

Empowering and supporting introverts

ITOPiA seeks to empower and support introverts through education, career development, and access to key leadership, all while building relationships with others at 84.51°. To accomplish this mission, ITOPiA has instituted a couple of initiatives. First, Showalter's initial 'pods' still exist as fantastic connectors and support for introverts in the workplace. Beyond that, ITOPiA has held effective presentations such as: 'How to Prepare for a Presentation' and 'What Does Public Speaking Look Like?' It has also held panels with extroverted individuals that allowed introverts to get in the head of an extrovert and ask for advice or feedback, such as: "How should I interject in a busy meeting?"

For 84.51°'s Area 51 event, an 'off-the-grid' experience for employees to connect and build new skills, members of ITOPiA established a meeting place for employees to go if they felt overwhelmed or wanted to see a friendly face. Before the event, they also developed a 'tips and tricks' sheet that included a floor plan, helpful guidance about the event, as well as additional resources. In this sheet, it noted that although the event may feel intimidating or stressful, it was also a fantastic opportunity for self-growth.

Additionally, to improve the dialogue between managers and their employees, ITOPiA developed a 'flip the script' document to share with managers. It includes feedback often given to employees, the impact and reaction of that feedback from an introvert's perspective, what to say or do instead, and the research behind those recommendations. Instead of saying, "you are not socializing or networking enough" to an introverted employee, managers can reiterate that connecting with others is essential, but that it can be done during work hours or in smaller settings. Managers could also offer to be a connecting force via purpose-driven conversations (collaborative projects, shared research, etc.). The words used when providing feedback matter. Being conscious of those words is the first step in developing better dialogue, embracing who employees are, and celebrating what they can become.

Opening a new door of communication

“ITOPiA has opened a new door of communication between managers and associates, and we're confident this new approach will ultimately lead to our associates feeling valued and their ideas heard and acknowledged on a broader scale,” said Terron Wilson, 84.51° Director of Diversity and Inclusion.

Above all else, ITOPiA’s vision is to create an environment where the unique contributions of introverts and extroverts are balanced, acknowledged, and recognized at 84.51°. Though it may be a long road ahead, this group is just getting started.

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