When we talk to clients about the benefits of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), we often finish with the question ‘What would happen if we did nothing?’ This question usually brings home the importance of EDI, even to the most reluctant of believers.
There was a time in history when the question of what happens if we do nothing gave us a clear answer. That was the time shortly after the commencement of the Industrial Revolution. The age of the industrial revolution continues to be hailed as the most profound time of transformation our world has experienced. Those studying the history of innovation point to a steep upward curve for innovation and social development, starting with the industrial age. Technology accelerated economic growth and changed forever how we do things.
But not entirely without a hitch.
Having grown accustomed to a certain type of machine engine, our resistance to one specific element of innovation delayed progress by approximately 25 years. That element of innovation was electrification. Using machinery that was powered by electricity rather than steam meant a huge redesign of how factories were built, allowing for greater productivity in the use of space and in manufacturing. But the lack of acceptance of this new way of working, together with a lack of understanding of how it would loosen the ties that steam engines imposed on production, caused over 40% of industrial trusts to fail, and many of those that survived shrunk by 30%. *(1)
The masters of the industrial revolution chose to do ‘nothing’ instead of embracing progress, and as a result, nearly put to bed society’s biggest advancement.
This, apparently, happens often. ‘Organisations in the perfect position to win instead manage, against all odds, to lose.’*(2) Why? Arguably, because they lack the insight of the outsider to see the opportunities before them. In his chapter on Innovation in his book Rebel Ideas, Matthew Syed explains that this insight is called the ‘outsider mindset’, something Diversity offers naturally: a mindset that is different from the status quo. So much so that it will be ready to embrace challenges that we don’t yet know of, like those that will crop up in jobs that don’t yet exist. This is a mindset that cannot be acquired by following the same path as our predecessors; this is a mindset that has been formed out of completely different, even unconventional, experiences.
So, the answer to the question ‘What would happen if we did nothing?’ is a rather scary one. At this stage of our evolution, it paints a picture of unstoppable progress for which humanity is not prepared because we choose not to adopt a mindset that will be ready to embrace whatever this progress throws at us. Instead, were we to choose the ‘same old’ thinking formula, it might lead to scenarios that include atrocities like 9-11, perhaps even a society reminiscent of the ominous one in the Handmaid’s Tale.
Luckily, no client of ours has ever had any problem answering this question. Simply put, everyone knows that ‘doing nothing’ is not an option. And if for no other reason, the potential fall-out of lack of progress on EDI should be enough to motivate to action even the most determined cynic.
(1) Rebel Ideas, Matthew Syed
(2) Rebel Ideas, Matthew Syed