06 May 2021
Written by Trevor Phillips OBE, Founding Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Non-Executive Director of MindGym plc
One version of the law coined by the great author and visionary Arthur C. Clarke says ‘magic is just science we don’t understand yet’.
Put another way, most scientists grasp that what we know today is just a way station to greater insight in the future. I started working life as a chemist, so as a onetime lab rat, I tend to approach most problems with the certainty that while what we know now may be good enough for today, tomorrow someone, somewhere will probably be working to come up with a deeper analysis and a better answer.
That is why scientists are such restless, creative beings. Until now, we have rarely applied that drive to making diverse organisations fairer and more productive.
MindGym’s Inclusion Solution report (download it here) is a major contribution to making up for that deficit.
Most leaders now agree that diversity in the workplace can have a beneficial effect and just as important, deployed properly, is a huge contributor to business success. Indeed, for many this has become an article of faith.
But for the scientist, simply asserting a truism is not enough; we need to know why, and what we can do to make things even better. Those who do their work honestly and thoroughly also recognise that diversity in our organisations isn’t always a plus – it can produce frictions and slow things down if we let it.
Delivering a diversity dividend isn’t an easy process; much depends on ensuring the right combination of people at the right time, in the right configuration. We have to work at it.
But all too often, leaders are assured that if they simply apply greater effort or more resources, given time, things will change. When they don’t improve, the result is frustration and disillusionment all round.
Einstein probably never actually uttered the famous dictum attributed to him that ‘insanity consists of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’, but my experience says it’s true. This means that we need to rigorously test our current beliefs about what works – and where we need to change our understanding, we have to have the courage to do so.
This report from the MindGym team is a brilliant example of the appliance of science to diversity and inclusion. It brings three major new ideas to the table. First, that the diversity which matters isn’t just the variety associated with protected characteristics – race, sex, disability, sexual orientation and so on; if anything, these are simply pointers to other, possibly more important factors, such as perspective, experience and character. Second, that there are no silver bullets in this work; this year’s fashionable remedy may have value, but it won’t solve every problem.
Finally, what you will read in the pages of the white paper is not just theoretical, nor is it simply a critique of the past; the ‘inclusion solution’ proposed here describes a real-world approach which could be transformative. We know a lot about the state of diversity, but we don’t always understand how to get the best out of what we know. Friends who studied engineering would point out to me that a wheel, however decorative and theoretically interesting, isn’t much use by itself. But, they would say, the person who put four wheels together, added an axle and put them on a cart, turbocharged the development of human society.
In this study, MindGym has carefully analysed and explained why so many of us feel that the diversity drive has run out of steam and has found fresh, actionable ways forward. Let me emphasise, that doesn’t mean that what we’ve done in the past is wrong; it just means that we now know how to get to the next level.
This is how progress is made. In years to come, I believe that the insights in this report will be seen to have been a turning point in making every workplace fairer and more productive.