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Using Personality to Improve Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Practical, Evidence-Based Recommendations

By Kimberly Nei, Ph.D., Amber Burkhart, Ph.D., Chase Winterberg, JD, MA, & Jessica Walker, MS


The protests against systemic patterns of racism and police brutality following George Floyd’s death, the success of female heads of state leading their countries through the global pandemic, and the recent United States Supreme Court decision prohibiting workplace discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation are just a few of the topics that are spurring discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) right now.

Although these current events have brought DEI to the forefront, this topic should not be new in the workplace—addressing DEI concerns should be a critical priority for all organizations (Cox & Blake, 1991). However, many organizations struggle to create diverse workplaces, especially at the highest levels, and to foster a culture that allows all employees to feel heard and included. Fortunately, organizations can leverage personality assessments to help address these concerns and create a more diverse and inclusive culture.

Why Should We Care About Diversity and Inclusion?

The topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion is capturing the attention of organizations for many reasons. Many organizations are seeking to do the right thing, avoid legal recourse, and deliver key business outcomes. Given these reasons, it’s not surprising that the majority of survey respondents (75%) in a recent study by Pew Research consider it important for their organizations to promote diversity in the workplace.

Even if there were no moral imperatives or risks of legal challenges for an organization, a strong business case exists for creating a diverse workplace. Some research suggests that diversity can lead to increased productivity and better problem solving by leveraging unique perspectives. As one example, some estimates suggest that organizations with higher levels of gender diversity paired with engagement outperform organizations that lack female representation by up to 58%. Further, we especially see the benefits to the bottom line when diversity exists at the top levels of an organization. McKinsey’s Diversity Wins report in 2019 found that companies with more gender and ethnic diversity at the executive level outperformed companies with less diversity.

The positive impact does not stop there. Organizations with more DEI practices tend to have less absenteeism and turnover and higher levels of organizational innovation and performance (e.g., Downey et al., 2015; Guillaume et al., 2015; McKay et al., 2008; Nishii & Mayer, 2009; Ramesh & Gelfand, 2010; van Knippenberg et al., 2004). However, even with these notable outcomes, many employees say their organizations are not doing enough to create inclusive environments.

How Can Assessments Help Your D&I Goals?

Using well-validated personality assessments, such as the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI; Hogan & Hogan, 2007), the Hogan Development Survey (HDS; Hogan & Hogan, 2009), and Motives Values Preferences Inventory (MVPI; Hogan & Hogan, 2010) significantly supports DEI efforts. First, personality assessment promotes fairness in selection. Research shows that personality is a strong predictor of performance (Hogan & Holland, 2003) without producing meaningful subgroup differences (Hough et al., 2010). This means personality-based solutions can help you identify the best talent without discriminating against any group, thereby preserving diversity in applicant pools.

Contrary to popular misconception, using personality for selection does not create a workforce of people who have the same personality profile. For example, at Hogan we create selection profiles that are specific for each job, which significantly vary across an organization. Within a job, we typically only screen for a few personality characteristics and at extreme ends. For example, we might find that a role requires being conscientious and extraverted. We would screen out individuals who score extremely low on those characteristics; however, individuals in the role would still have varying scores on those characteristics above the screening threshold and even more variance on characteristics not in the profile.

Second, you can use personality tools to identify and develop leaders who will promote diversity and inclusion. At Hogan, we analyzed data from more than 5,000 individuals to explore the components of Hogan’s personality inventories that predict supervisor ratings on behaviors, such as

  • discouraging discrimination and prejudice;
  • relating well to a variety of people;
  • recognizing the unique potential of each person;
  • showing respect, tolerance, and open mindedness;
  • respecting views different from one’s own;
  • treating others with respect regardless of race, gender, appearance, religion, and beliefs;
  • valuing diverse perspectives;
  • displaying sensitivity to issues related to diversity and culture;
  • having the ability to see the world from the perspective of others; and
  • displaying sensitivity to the needs of others.

We aggregated matched assessment and performance scores across 47 organizations using a method called meta-analysis and found that certain personality characteristics were related to inclusion behaviors (Winterberg et al., 2021). Specifically, people who are optimistic, perceptive, warm, conscientious, tolerant, open minded, not defensive, trusting, modest, humble, honest, sympathetic, and concerned about helping others will work to foster an environment of inclusivity, regardless of race, age, gender, background, or ideas.


The importance of diversity and inclusion and the steps you need to take to make your workplace more diverse and inclusive cannot be outlined in a short paper. In fact, superficial attempts at improving DEI initiatives can have negative effects (Ferdman, 2014; Mannix & Neale, 2005; Nishi & Mayer, 2009; Thomas & Ely, 1996). An appropriate organizational culture is necessary to nurture diversity and inclusion. Some research suggests that organizational diversity structures alone, such as diversity policies, diversity training, and diversity awards, can cause white men to have illusory perceptions of fair decision-making procedures impacting minorities (i.e., a “we checked the box” attitude; Kaiser et al., 2013). This can lead to white men reacting harshly to claims of discrimination because they might assume all DEI issues have been addressed. Further, we haven’t even touched on the complexity of thinking about diversity in a global context (Roberson, 2019). Although we cannot give you a perfect solution, we do provide these practical recommendations for consideration in your larger DEI initiatives. You can use well-validated personality assessments to:

  1. select and promote all employees to increase diversity, hire qualified candidates, and promote fairness in hiring; using assessments that do not discriminate will lead to more diversity at all levels;
  2. select, promote, and develop leaders who will create a diverse and inclusive environment; and
  3. provide feedback to employees and enhance their awareness of biases they might have that could stifle DEI efforts.

For more information, make sure you check out our webinar on D&I. You can also listen to our recent The Science of Personality podcast episodes, “Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion,” “Women in Leadership,” “SCOTUS’ LGBTQ Decision and What It Means for Your Organization,” and “Women Leading Through the Pandemic.”


Cox, T. H., & Blake, S. (1991). Managing cultural diversity: Implications for organizational competitiveness. Academy of Management Executive, 5, 45-56.

Downey, S. N., van der Werff, L., Thomas, K. M., & Plaut, V. C. (2015). The role of diversity practices and inclusion in promoting trust and employee engagement. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 45, 35-44.

Ferdman, B. M. (2014). The practice of inclusion in diverse organizations: Toward a systemic and inclusive framework. In B. M. Ferdman & B. R. Deane (Eds.), Diversity at work: The practice of inclusion (pp. 3-54). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Guillaume, Y. R. F., Dawson, J. F., Otaye-Ebede, L., Woods, S. A., & West, M. A. (2015). Harnessing demographic differences in organizations: What moderates the effects of workplace diversity? Journal of Organizational Behavior, 38, 276-303.

Hogan, J., & Holland, B. (2003). Using theory to evaluate personality and job-performance relations: A socioanalytic perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 100-112.

Hogan, R., & Hogan, J. (2007). Hogan Personality Inventory manual (3rd ed.). Tulsa, OK: Hogan Assessment Systems.

Hogan, R., & Hogan, J. (2009). Hogan Development Survey manual (2nd ed.). Tulsa, OK: Hogan Press.

Hogan, R., & Hogan, J. (2010). Hogan Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory manual. Tulsa, OK: Hogan Press.

Hough, L. M., Oswald, F. L., & Ployhart, R. E. (2010). Determinants, detection and amelioration of adverse impact in personnel selection procedures: Issues, evidence and lessons learned. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 9, 152-194.

Kaiser, C. R., Major, B., Jurcevic, I., Dover, T. L., Brady, L. M., & Shapiro, J. R. (2013). Presumed fair: Ironic effects of organizational diversity structures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 504-519.

Mannix, E., & Neale, M. A. (2005). What differences make a difference? The promise and reality of diverse teams in organizations. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 6, 31-55.

McKay, P. F., Avery, D. R., & Morris, M. A. (2008). Mean racial-ethnic differences in employee sales performance: The moderating role of diversity climate. Personnel Psychology, 61, 349-374.

Nishii, L. H., & Mayer, D. M. (2009). Do inclusive leaders help to reduce turnover in diverse groups? The moderating role of leader-member exchange in the diversity to turnover relationship. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 1412-1426.

Ramesh, A., & Gelfand, M. J. (2010). Will they stay or will they go? The role of job embeddedness in predicting turnover in individualistic and collectivistic cultures. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95, 807-823.

Roberson, Q. M. (2019). Diversity in the workplace: A review, synthesis, and future research agenda. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior6, 69-88.

Thomas, D., A., & Ely, R. J. (1996). Making differences matter: A new paradigm for managing diversity. Harvard Business Review, 74, 79-90.

van Knippenberg, D., De Dreu, C. K. W., & Homan, A. C. (2004). Work group diversity and group performance: An integrative model and research agenda. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 1008-1022.

Winterberg, C. A., Walker, J. M., Nei, K. S., & Burkhart, A. (2021, April). Improving D&I: Personality predicts inclusion behaviors [Poster]. 36th Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, New Orleans, LA.

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