Gender Differences and the High Potential Traits Inventory

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. 

High Potential Traits Inventory gender differences

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.


Ian MacRae

The Benefits of Low Conscientiousness at Work

Conscientiousness is listed as a desirable trait on almost every job description. Whether it is described as ambition, self-motivated, well organized or a “self-starter”. Everyone is looking for diligence, responsiblity and accountability. Right? Every employer seems to want conscientious employees. 

And indeed, the evidence also suggests conscientiousness is desirable for many jobs. Those who are conscientious tend to perform better, achieve more, show greater improvement as a result of training and are more likely to get promoted. Conscientiousness is one of the greatest predictors of success in many careers.

So what are the advantages (if any) of lower conscientiousness? First, look at how those with lower conscientiousness describe themselves. People with higher conscientiousness would say they are responsible. punctual, organized, dutiful. Those with lower conscientiousness would say they are spontaneous, flexible, and have more fun. Both are correct.

Along with their strengths, those with lower conscientiousness have some very redeeming vices.

Life Satisfaction

The first advantage of lower conscientiousness is clear. Those with lower conscientiousness are less affected by setbacks at work. The highly conscientious workaholic feels successful through professional achivement. Those with lower conscientiousness gain satisfaction from other sources like family, relationships, hobbies and diversions. This means work and career setbacks have a much less negative impact on those with lower conscientiousness. Boyce and colleagues (2010) found periods of unemployment much more damaging to the well-being of those with higher conscientiousness. 


Some positions require flexibility, and the capacity to seize opportunities, change priorities and deviate from the long-term plan. Sometimes, good enough really is good enough, while the perfectionist wastes time on unimportant details. For better or worse, those with lower conscientious can be much faster at adapting to opportunities and change. The artistic and creative fields are dominated by those with lower conscientiousness. Although the connection is complex, low conscientiousness is often associated with higher creativity.

Team Dynamics

A heterogeneous, exceedingly conscientious group can be the least creative. When looking too far into the future, its possible to miss the opportunities right under your nose. Those with lower conscientiousness tend to be more focused on the current moment and situation than long-term planning. The highly conscientious often find their more spontaneous compatriots flighty, flaky or frustrating. But groups benefit from being constructively challenged by those with different points of view. The most creative and adaptable groups will combine the strong planners with the creative and the spontaneous.


It’s not that those with lower conscientiousness cannot be motivated, they are motivated by different things. Those with high conscientiousness are motivated by an internal drive, while those with lower conscientiousness are motivated by the external. That is the environment, the circumstances, the people and what’s going on around them.

Those with lower conscientiousness can work tirelessly when they are motivated by something external. This may involve drawing inspiration from those around them, or the threat of a looming deadline.

So, is it better to have high or low conscientiousness? The answer, of course, depends entirely on how conscientious you are.



Boyce, C. J., Wood, A. M., & Brown, G. D. A. (2010). The dark side of conscientiousness: Conscientious people experience greater drops in life satisfaction following unemployment. Journal of Research in Personality 44, 435 - 539.

Fayard, J. V., Roberts, B. W., Robins, R. W., & Watson, D. Uncovering the affective core of conscientiousness: The role of self-conscious emotions. Journal of Personality, 80(1), 

MacRae, I., & Furnham, A. (2014). High Potential: How to spot, manage and develop talented people at work. London: Bloomsbury.


Ian MacRae

Conscientiousness is an essential trait for entrepreneurs

Conscientiousness is a useful trait in nearly ever career. Those who are conscientious are hardworking, dependable self starters. The research on personality clearly shows conscientiousness is a predictor of nearly every type of success.

Conscientious managers tend to perform better. Conscientious people tend to be more successful in training and education. Conscientious salespeople typically outperform their less conscientious colleagues.

So what of entrepreneurs? Startups are challenging, and small businesses have high mortality rates. In the United States, the Bureau of Labour Statistics [link] finds that 20-25% of businesses fail within the first year, only two-thirds remain after three years, only half are still surviving after six years, and fifteen years on, only one quarter of businesses are still in existence. Irrespective of the year of founding, and positioning in economic cycles, business survival rates are similar. 

The traits of the entrepreneur are important to the business. Unsurprisingly, the evidence shows conscientiousness effectively predicts entrepreneurial success. Ciavarella and colleagues [link] surveyed thousands of graduate students and tracked their progress over 25 years to examine the traits of those who started businesses, survival rates of businesses and business growth. The clear result was that conscientious entrepreneurs are more successful in starting, maintaining and expanding businesses. 

New business rely on the skills, knowledge, personality, experience and other attributes of the person(s) starting the business. There are of course external influences, supply and demand, labour forces conditions, availability of credit, etc. which may affect a business - but a successful entrepreneur must adapt to these external conditions.

This is interesting for two reasons, particularly when comparing the traits of entrepreneurs with successful leaders:

  1. There is a fundamental similarity between managers, leaders and entrepreneurs in the importance of conscientiousness. Higher conscientiousness improves success for both.
  2. Other than conscientiousness, the personality of a successful entrepreneur is very different from a manager or leaders of a large company. For example, while senior executives tend to be very resilient to stressors, many entrepreneurs thrive under stress and those who are conscientious use it as a driving force.

Of course, conscientiousness is not the only important attribute of a successful entrepreneur. Planning and hard work alone is not necessarily sufficient for a successful business. Any aspiring entrepreneur should consider their own conscientiousness; investors beware about investing an entrepreneur who is not conscientious.




Ian MacRae

Seven Important Facts About Personality Testing at Work

Publishers and management consultants pushed, peddled and praised the tests so they have become popular over the past few decades. Despite nearly 100 years of research into psychometric testing there are still missed opportunities, poorly administered tests, and many tests with little or no real evidence to support their use.

The popularity of testing ebbs and flows, and there are still many. There remained cynics, skeptics and traditionalists who never trusted them and rejoiced in their publicized failures.

But this periodic coverage is useful for reinvigorating interest in testing.  Here are seven, often asked, questions with answers.

1. Why do people use psychometric tests in recruitment?

Tests can provide reliable data for better decision making.  People are complicated, ambiguous, capricious and difficult to read. Some people conceal, others exaggerate and over-share. Recruiters, managers and HR departments are trying to gauge many different things: creativity, handling pressure, integrity, punctuality, team-working.  They need reliable data to find, hire, promote and develop the right people.

2. Are tests cost-effective?

Cost-effectiveness depends on the accuracy of the test, and the ability knowledge and ability of the test administrator, along with how well the results are applied. When considering the cost effectiveness, consider the cost of getting it wrong. Ever tried to get rid of a well-dug-in, incompetent staff member who was a bad selection decision right from the start?.  Ever seen someone you turned down years before running now a successful competitor company? Weigh the benefits of making a good decision, with the cost of making an error.

3. Should tests be used to select in or select out?

Most recruitment (should) start with a job analysis followed by an accurate and measurable list of attributes required to succeed in the work. Use tests and the available evidence to look for competencies and capabilities. But don't forget it is equally important to look for the negative traits as well as the positive. Charm can be a useful attribute, but may be problematic if it comes with flattery, deception and manipulation.

4. Is lying or faking good on these tests frequent, easy and really a problem?

Everyone presents themselves differently in interviews. They commit sins of omission and commission. Psychologists describe self-presentation and impression-management, while most people would say they are just doing what they need to get the job. Interviews, tests and even performance can be faked to a certain degree.  But if everyone gave the “obvious” and desirable answer there would be two consequences.  First they would all give the same answer (which they patently do not).  Second there would be no evidence of test validity, which there is.  There are many ways to catch dissimulation (which is a polite way to say a lie). The degree of dishonesty often depends on how the test is presented. 

5. How do clients choose between tests?

There are well over 10,000 tests available yet the average recruiter or HR manager has one or two favourites and knowledge of only a few. Some of the most popular tests have a strong marketing machine but little real validity. Test peddlers of both valid and invalid tests know that clients do not know what questions to ask.The main thing is to understand (at least a little about) psychometric qualities such reliability validity and process and how to assess the tests.

6. How important is personality at work anyway?

There are a number of factors that determine performance and potential at work but five are clear: their ability, their motivation, their personality, their colleagues and the organisation’s processes and procedure.  You need to be bright enough for the job and motivated to do it (well).  You need to have a functional ship-shape, well managed organisations.  No “ideal” personality profile can compensate if the other features are missing.  So it’s as dangerous to believe personality is all important as to believe it is not at all important.

7. Personality changes over time?

Personality can change, but rarely does.  Go to a school reunion for evidence. Most personality and ability characteristics are hard wired.  Behaviours, values and motivation can change, but personality rarely does. There is always more evidence of continuity than change, of stability than variability, of consistency than inconsistency.  Trauma, training, brain injury and therapy can change people.  But typically by the mid-twenties what you see is what you get. Teenage introverts are introverts at 90, though they may learn to fake extroversion when its' required.

Of course personality is important at work.  Of course there are more or less desirable profiles for particular jobs.  The question remains: how you choose to find out about an applicant’s personality?


Adrian Furnham