I feel like there is no way to do this topic justice unless it’s a series. So, to that end, I’m just going to cover a short aspect of this each post. Today’s part: Are Narcissists disproportionately more prevalent in tech?
And to answer that with the standard database admin answer, “It depends…” We are going to have to get some clarity. First of all, what are we talking about when we say “Narcissist”? A person can have narcissistic behaviors, narcissistic traits, or a full blown narcissistic personality disorder (same as many other aspects of personality, such as dependent personality, or OCD kinds of behaviors). The prevalence of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) in the general population is believed to be around 0.2 percent (Larsen and Buss, 2014).
Since I’m obviously not a Psychologist or Psychiatrist, and diagnosing coworkers who aren’t your professional patients, is never advised, all I can say is that it seems to me that a lot of people in tech either exhibit narcissistic behaviors or traits. Full stop.
But it still does seem to me that there is a LOT of narcissism in technology. Why is that? Does the industry attract people with those behaviors, traits, or disorders? Does the environment encourage narcissism to succeed? Is there some kind of “career Darwinism” at play here, where the non-narcissists weed themselves out of the workforce? Yes. All of the above, more than likely.
If the industry trending white male (who are also more likely to be narcissistic, see notes) created an elitist atmosphere which systemically excluded women and minorities, it makes sense that those who saw themselves as superior and elite would gravitate towards it. Speculation, of course. On the superior/elite part. Women and people of color have been shut out of tech for no good reason for decades. So if narcissists (lumping behaviors, traits, and NPD all together here), are elitist gatekeepers, and enjoy their status as such, they make staying in tech miserable for those around them, but also hire people who reflect themselves, and perpetuate the cycle.
How are they not removed from the workforce? Well, narcissists are often motivated, charming, and seek positions of power. Like any spectrum, narcissists can range from annoying to dangerous. I mostly concern myself with the middle of the road ones, whose behaviors are toxic, maybe traumatic to anyone who has previously suffered narcissistic abuse, or maybe even unethical (and thus dangerous to the business) due to their inability to accept responsibility, admit mistakes, or ask for help.
I’m really generalizing, sure. Here’s the thing, though. I’ve worked in technology for 25 years. I’ve worked for major software companies, I’ve worked for local government, and everything in between. I’ve never worked in an IT department without multiple people who had pervasive, observable narcissistic behaviors. I actually even worried for a long time that *I* might be a narcissist, after I learned about vulnerable narcissism (maybe I am, who knows). You know the joke that 3 out of 5 people are assholes…think of your 4 closest friends, if more than one of them isn’t an asshole, you’re the asshole.
So, let me just summarize the DSM 5 criteria for NPD:
- Grandiose sense of self-importance
- Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Belief that one is special anc can only be understood by or associate with special people or institutions
- A need for excessive admiration
- A sense of entitlement (to special treatment)
- Exploitation of others
- A lack of empathy
- Envy of others or the belief that one is the object of envy
- Arrogant, haughty behavior or attitudes
Next let’s talk about what that looks like in the office.
Random web results, because my research journal access ended when I graduated. Bummer.
Larson, R., Buss, D.M. (2014). Personality psychology: Domains of knowledge about human nature, 6th ed. New York, NY:McGraw-Hill Education.
Men are more narcissistic: