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From ''Why am I like this'' to  ''This is just who I am''

Being an Introverted Woman in Work Life


Each year, colorful diagrams illustrate the percentage of women who get to executive positions compared to men in Turkey. The years and numbers change, but the gap between the two colors remains the same. Without even glancing at the sex represented by the color, we know that the one above 80% is most likely representing ‘men’ while the one that barely reaches 20% represents ‘women’. This never really surprises us either. Perhaps some kind of anger... We quickly review all the reasons we are already familiar with. The roles forced upon women by their gender, the differentiation between ‘man’s job – women’s job’ that may not exist in theory anymore but surely does in practice, the presupposition that being a manager is a job that only men can handle, and that it requires one to have a ‘go-getter’, ‘authoritative’ and ‘masculine’ personality.




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Statistically, it is more difficult for women to reach executive positions compared to men. Obviously, the glass ceiling is standing in the way. The situation only gets worse for introverted women. For them it is not just the prejudices and difficulties that come with their sex, but also the struggle of trying to become a part of this world that is oriented towards extroverts. The numbers are not enough to accurately describe the difficulties that these women experience compared to men.

In her book ‘Quiet’, which has become the guide book of introverts around the world, Susan Cain writes that at least one-third of the American population has an introverted personality. If not you, your partner, child or friend could easily be an introvert. I am yet to come across a study that says anything about the introvert percentage of the population in Turkey. The Turkish Language Society defines ‘introvert’ as follows: ‘Someone who has difficulties communicating with those around them, who is closed off, with weak social connections.’ For many years that was my definition as well. The more I observed these people like me, who were quiet and did not have too many friends, I thought of them as having ‘weak social connections’. I did not believe there were that many of us.

Introvert:   A person who has difficulty in communicating with his / her environment, who is introverted, who has weak social relations


                                                            TDK Turkish Dictionary

Carl Gustav Jung one of the first to describe introversion. According to him, an introverted person is a person whose interest turns to his own feelings and thoughts. Jung says that everyone has both an extrovert and an introvert, only that one is more dominant than the other.


In time I came to understand that this person with ‘weak social connections’, is actually someone who gathers their energy from within and prefers few but deep connections. It is someone who needs to withdraw for a while after socializing, and simply ‘recharge’. I understood that this not only has nothing to do with weakness but also means that these people have a rich inner world and a strong ability to empathize with others. I learned that it is simply unfair to describe such a person as ‘struggling’, ‘weak’ or ‘closed off’ when they are merely different in the way that they socialize and express themselves.


Aydan is currently working as a product manager in an automative firm. She is an introverted woman who aims to get to advance in her job. Şule, who is now a Director of Human Resources, has worked in different executive positions throughout her career. Elif is a clinical psychologist who has been a part of the academic staff of a foundation university for the past 5 years. I asked them what it means to be an introvert.



Why am I like this?


It has been no more than a year since Aydan has realized that she is an introvert. She says that this disvovery has brought her relief and helped her feel more valuable. She tells me about how, as a kid, being constantly criticized for not being like the others created an immense pressure on her. She especially remembers asking herself the question ‘Why am I like this?’ whenever she noticed that the ‘other’ kids got more attention and were found to be more approachable. Clinical psychologist Elif says that a child questioning themselves like that could result in them pushing themselves to participate in activities they do not enjoy, for the sole purpose of being approved of and appreciated.


There is no single answer to the question ‘Why am I like this?’. Science explains it based on different genetic, environmental and social factors. Anyway, we do not really like this question anymore. Instead, we dare to ask ourselves ‘Why should I not be like this?’ or ‘What is wrong with being like this?’

My friends were mostly from school, I usually played by myself. In the family, they used to say that Aydan does not go out on the street that much.

Do we have to pretend in our work life?


In her book titled ‘Quiet Impact’, Dr. Sylvia Loehken argues that with a certain amount of effort, introverts can become fine public speakers. When introverts focus on improving their strong suits such as their cautiousness, concentration, determination, as well as their ability to self-reflect, empathize, listen, and write, they can become successful speakers. According to Loehken, if they are capable of it and believe that it won’t push their personal boundaries, there is no disadvantage in an introvert acting like an extrovert.

In job interviews, for example, Aydan chooses to highlight her extroverted characteristics and experiences instead of trying to hide her introverted side. On the other hand, Şule believes that an introverted candidate can not easily fake being an extrovert in a job interview. She thinks that even if they do, they will give themselves away from one way or another. Aydan disagrees. In her opinion, in the workplace environment, a lot of people fake being extroverts.


Most of us fill our CVs with hobbies that we always wanted to pursue but never really did, language courses or societies that we attended maybe once or twice. Even if we have not really pursued these interests, perhaps we truly believe that this hobby that we choose to write down in our CV really represents us and conveys what it is that we want to say about ourselves.  

Maybe we feel the way Aydan does. We think; ‘I believe I am capable of being good at this job simply as the person I am, but I need to fit into the criteria they have for it.’ Except for jobs that are tailor-made for introverts, these criteria often include being a social, expressive individual who has improved themselves through countless activities and training, thus proving they are both business-savvy and socially competent.

In a situation like this, an introvert can naturally feel inadequate and have the tendency to consciously or unconsciously pretend to be someone they are not. They would do this when they believe they are perfectly cabaple of being successful in a position and not want to sacrifice an opportunity just because they do not perfectly fit the mold.

You should not be soft and should know what to do. If you don't know that, you have to pretend.

Introversion is ignored in business life


Let us say it is fair to pretend until one achieves their goal, but then what? Just as Dr. Sylvia Loehken said, should we keep pushing forward our extrovert side if we are capable of doing so without harming our personal boundaries? Would this behavior not reinforce and reproduce the unwritten rules of a business world designed only for extroverts?


I ask Aydan if she would keep on pretending to be an extrovert to further advance in her career. ‘I could,’ she replies. ‘Would you prefer to?’ I ask. ‘No,’ she answers this time, ‘We shouldn’t conform to the circumstances that make us uncomfortable, it is the workplaces that should recognize and care about our needs’. Still, like many of us, she does not believe that change will come all at once. She thinks the system will continue as it is. The topic of work life and introvertedness is rarely talked about or known of. Even when it is known, no one cares about it. This only drives introverts further into loneliness. After all, two is better than one.


In her famous book, Susan Cain writes that in order to transform work-life, we do not need people with huge egos, but rather leaders who focus not only on themselves but the companies that they manage. I ask Aydan ‘What do you think are the attributes of a good leader?’. She lists many characteristics. What I like most is how she emphasizes that a leader needs to be someone who convinces people without even trying. There should be no force, no disdain, no oppression of the ego or title. Such a person would not be a leader anyway. Maybe just a manager.


Şule focuses on this divide and asks, ‘Does everyone have to be a leader?’. According to her, the manager title is one that anyone could claim one way or another, but being a leader is different.


Yet, we never see the ones in charge, those who call themselves leaders as modest people who sometimes self-doubt, keep a low voice and can even be confused. That loud, confident voice and the clear, demanding nature of the way they communicate represents everything we know about power. Leadership, which in theory is fit not only for extroverts, seems like it can belong to no one else because of the dogmas of work life.

No matter how strongly Aydan believes that an introverted personality might be the key to being a good leader, she is aware that it does not coincide with the realities of work life. ‘In order to get to a higher position, you need to sell your work, make it seem like you have done things you maybe haven’t.’ she says. These are not unfamiliar words. This state of acceptance hurts nonetheless. Should we be capable and ready to scold people when necessary?

When I realized that especially successful people defined themselves as introverted I felt relieved and frankly felt more valuable.

Dışa dönük olsaydım daha başarılı olur muydum?

İş Hayatında malum cam tavan, yönetim kadrolarına erişirken yolumuzu tıkıyor. İçe dönük kadınlar için bu durum ikiye katlanıyor. Hem kadın olmanın getirdiği ön yargılar ve zorluklar, hem de dışa dönüklere hitap eden bir dünyanın parçası olmaya çabalayıp durmak.

Peki ne yapmalı? Kuralları olduğu gibi kabullenip başarılı olabilmek için olmadığımız biri gibi davranmaya devam mı etmeli? Bir içe dönük kadın ya finansçı, bilgi işlemci, yazar ya da herhangi başka bir 'içe dönük meslek'e ait görmüyorsa kendini. Kendi iletişim tarzıyla kabul görmek, açık ofislerin gürültüsüne, ekip toplantılarının ve beyin fırtınalarının yoruculuğuna hayır diyebilmek istiyorsa. Farklılılara saygı duyulan bir iş yerinde, farklılıklara saygı duyan bir lider olma hayalindeyse... Bu hayali rafa mı kaldırmalı?

Elif bu sorunun cevabını, ''İçe dönüklerin yöntemi farklı olabilir'' diyerek veriyor. Yine de bu yalnız mücadeleyi sürdürebilmek, dışa dönüklük baz alınarak tasarlanmış bir sistemin karşısında sarsılmadan durabilmek zor.

Oysa Google'da yaptığımız her Türkçe aramada, iş hayatında içe dönükleri destekleyen en az birkaç tane içeriğe rastlasaydık, sosyal medyada tartışılır ve konuşulur olsaydı, Aydan'ın dediği gibi çoğu kişi yine kendini dışa dönük gösterme ihtiyacı hisseder miydi? Yoksa, ben de öyleyim diyebilmek daha kolay mı olurdu?


Ben de böyleyim

Çocukken sorduğumuz 'Ben Neden Böyleyim?' sorusu, kendimizi ve içe dönüklüğümüzü keşfettikçe gururlu bir, 'Ben de böyleyim'e dönüşüyor. Ben de böyleyim; insanları dinlemekte, hissettiklerini anlamakta iyiyim. Yalnızlığımdan ve tek başıma çalışmaktan zevk almayı biliyor, konsantrasyonumu kolay kolay kaybetmiyorum. Etrafımın insan dolu olmaması, her toplantıda kendini en iyi ifade eden kişi olmamam, iyi fikirlerim olmadığı anlamına gelmiyor. Ben de böyleyim; kendi yöntemlerimle kabul görmek, kendimi en iyi hissettiğim şekilde ifade edebilme hakkımın olmasını istiyorum.

Ben de böyleyim;  belki iş hayatının keskin dışa dönük kurallara uyum sağlamak için değişmesi gereken ben değilimdir. Belki, beni değişmeye zorlayan sistemin bir yerleri hasarlıdır ve asıl tamir edilmesi gereken o hasarlı yerlerdir. 

Author: Hilal Erkoca

Illustrations: Kristine Onarheim

Videographer: Polat Bektaş

Kaktüs projesi, iş hayatındaki dışa dönük kurallarla epey hırpalanmış iki içe dönük kadın tarafından, konuyu toplumda ve özellikle kadınlar arasında tartışmaya açmak için tasarlandı. Adı kaktüs. Çünkü kaktüs bir çiçek bahçesindeki en ilgi çeken bitki değil. Güzel durmak, sürekli parlamakla ilgilenmiyor. İçe dönüklük de dikenli bir kaktüs gibi hissetmek bazen. Kendi halinde, kimi zaman yalnız, ama hayat dolu olmak. Dikenlerinin güzelliğinden bir şey eksiltmediğini bilmek. Az su bol güneşle kendi yağında kavrulabilmek. Belki başka bitkiler kadar ilgiye, muhabbete aç olmamak. Yine de, dikenlerine rağmen, çiçek bile açmak isteyince.

"Bu içerik, Impact Hub Istanbul ve ABD'nin Türkiye Misyonu tarafından desteklenen Project Zoom kapsamında hazırlanmıştır. ABD Hükümeti'nin Resmi görüşünü yansıtmamaktadır. Burada paylaşılan bilgi ve görüşlerin sorumluluğu tamamen sahibine aittir"

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