Gender differences in personality are a typical area of disagreement for researchers. There is a long history of contrary findings from minor to major to no gender differences in personality. In 1974 Maccoby and Jacklin concluded men tend to be more assertive, women tend to be more anxious. Research in the often used “Big Five” model of personality finds similar trends of women reporting more emotional volatility, social agreeablility and slightly more gregariousness (Weisberg et al., 2011).
Gender stereotypes exist in many measures of personality used in the workplace. In Myers-Briggs, men tend towards “thinking” types whereas women far outnumber men in the “feeling” type. On the Hogan Personality Inventory, men score higher than women on every trait, although the differences is only significant for some traits like adjustment, intellect, socialibility and stress tolerance (Ones & Anderson, 2010).
In general, studies find that men tend to be more assertive and express dominance, women tend to express more emotionality and warmth. But are these real psychological differences between the genders? Or artefacts of the scale, results of particular ways of framing questions. So what of gender differences in the High Potential Traits Inventory (HPTI)?
A study of over 1700 working professions who completed the HPTI finds essentially no gender differences. When we ask people about their personality at work using the High Potential Traits Inventory, any [statistically significant] gender differences disappear.
The chart below shows personality differences, with men represented by light blue bars, women as dark blue bars. Although there are very minor gender differences for each trait there are no meaningful gender differences. Statistically speaking, there are no significant gender differences. With an average of 50, women score slightly higher on half the personality traits while men score slightly higher on the other half. The differences are not large enough to conclude there are any meaningful HPTI personality differences at work.
There three important implications for this:
- First, personality is a dimension of potential at work. As a component of potential, this would indicate potential is relatively evenly distributed between men and women. Of course, there are other relevant categories such as intelligence, skill and experience. But, based on personality there are equal numbers of high potential women and men.
- Second, personality traits are strong contributors to success and achievement at work. As there are no significantly significant gender differences in working populations, testing using the HPTI to assess personality at work would not introduce gender bias into an assessment process (unlike other personality measures).
- Finally, and most importantly, the HPTI is a much better predictor of success and achievement at work than other personality measures. Omitting some of the biased factors where gender differences exist creates a more equitable, fair, and valid way of assessing personality at work.
That’s not to say gender differences do not exist, but they do not exist within HPTI personality traits in the workplace. Thus, it is possible to take measure of these traits which are strongly associated with success and performance at work while maintaining an equitable hiring, development or retention plan.
Feingold, A. (1994) Gender Differences in Personality: A Meta Analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 116(3), 429-456.
Ones, D. S., & Anderson, N. R., (2002). Gender and ethnic group differences on personality scales in selection: Some British data. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 75, 255-276
MacRae & Furnham (2014). High Potential: How to spot manage and develop talented people at work. London: Bloomsbury.
Weisberg, Y. J., DeYoung, C. G., & Hirsch, J. B. (2011). Gender Differences in Personality across the Ten Aspects of the Big Five.