This girl can
Katy Lyne, Principal Consultant, OPP
Frequent users of social media in the UK may be aware of the increasing popularity of the hashtag #thisgirlcan over the past couple of years. The This Girl Can campaign, sponsored by Sport England, is ‘a celebration of active women who are doing their thing, no matter how well they do it, how they look or even how red their face gets’. It’s even inspired one of OPP’s own consultants, Helen Rayner, to take up competitive open water swimming.
The aim of the This Girl Can campaign is to ‘help women overcome the fear of judgement that is stopping too many women and girls from joining in’. While it focuses specifically on sport, it is sadly true that we still live in a world where there are many reasons that stop women from ‘joining in’ – particularly within the workplace. With allegations of sexism still making headlines, and conferences such as the Northern Powerhouse triggering protest movements (see #lasswar), we are still living in times of staggering gender bias. We clearly need to continue to inspire and equip women to overcome the barriers that are facing them.
In our recent webcast on ‘Decisions, Confidence and MBTI Type’, we explore some of the factors that contribute to the ‘glass ceiling’. They highlight the fact that, even in 2015, there were more FTSE 100 CEOs named John than there were female CEOs. Just 10% of Executive Directors of these companies were women. This is despite the fact that increasing evidence demonstrates that gender diversity is not only desirable but also profitable. The 2016 study by the Peterson Institute of International Economics analysed 21,980 publicly traded companies in 91 countries and demonstrated that the presence of more female leaders in top positions of corporate management strongly correlates with increased profitability*.
Even in 2017 this struggle continues, and on this year’s International Women’s Day, we at OPP want to celebrate women who stand up and challenge these barriers by saying ‘This Girl Can’. In particular, we want to remember the notable achievements of an inspirational female team – Katharine Cook Briggs (1875–1968) and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers (1897–1980) who, despite the cultural expectations of women at that time, followed a passion for understanding different personality types. This led to the creation of one of the world’s most famous personality indicators – The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – which is still widely used across the world to this day.
What is notable about Briggs and Myers is that they were both largely self-motivated. Katharine used her role as a wife and mother to observe differences between children, and she used her scientific training to determine the effects of events upon developing personalities. This extensive research into children and adults led to the development of her own theories, which were then validated as she and her daughter, Isabel, discovered the work of Carl Jung. Isabel was herself by then a wife and mother, and had inherited her own mother’s curiosity about differing personality types. She spent her time researching and writing in order to add to Jung’s work and develop the theories further. As a graduate, Isabel devoted the rest of her life to researching type, developing a paper and pencil ‘indicator’ in order to research differences. This led to the publication in the 1960s of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) questionnaire.
By starting all this in a time between the world wars, when women were largely expected to be home-makers, wives and mothers, Briggs and Myers both displayed a passion and tenacity which is still inspirational today. From letters and correspondence, we know that Carl Jung himself was impressed by Katharine’s brilliance and flattered by her admiration of his work. It was also clear that, despite their circumstances, both women used their home environment as inspiration and as a resource. Isabel wrote that although a husband, children and a ‘beloved ivy-covered colonial house’ in the suburbs were ‘everything in the world that I wanted’, she also knew that she wanted something else from her life. Initially focusing on writing, Isabel would work at night: "In the evenings, between nine and three, stretched six heavenly, uninterrupted hours – if only I could stay awake to use them."
Both Katharine and Isabel were keen writers, and although Isabel achieved some success with published articles and books, both women suffered setbacks and criticisms of their works. However, despite this, their curiosity about human development led them to conduct many years of painstaking research, much of it from their homes, in order to validate their theories and the new indicator. The two women were known for their tireless dedication to developing understanding. In papers found after her death, Isabel herself wrote that one of the key elements of her perspective on human behaviour was “Involvement – always to be tremendously interested.”
This is what is so inspirational today. It is this tenacity and curiosity that is notable and inspirational even today. Brand new research into entrepreneurship and type, soon to be published by OPP, highlights the importance of being curious and open to ideas as well as being tenacious and persistent in achieving success. Having dedicated their lives to advancing the ideas that they saw as tremendously powerful, Katharine and Isabel would surely be proud and staggered to know that their legacy includes the worldwide application of psychological type in business, education, religion, family life and career counselling. As many as 1.5 million assessments are administered annually to individuals, including to employees of most Fortune 500 companies.
History doesn’t record whether Katharine and Isabel were interested in open water swimming or other sports included in the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign. However, it does show us how they pushed through barriers to ‘join in’ with the increased understanding about human development. And while we can’t say for certain that they perceived the fear of judgement or lack of confidence that many women still encounter within the workplace, the legacy of their work means it is surely likely that, having faced significant challenges, they would be able to join in with the rousing chorus of ‘This Girl Can’!
*Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Survey, was written by Marcus Noland, Tyler Moran, and Barbara Kotschwar
Decisions, self-confidence and the glass ceiling: can the MBTI framework help?
More about Myers, Briggs and the MBTI assessment