The Scotsman

In­equal­i­ties in so­ci­ety were laid bare by the pan­demic

Tack­ling in­jus­tice must be fun­da­men­tal to the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic poli­cies of re­cov­ery, writes Michael Stur­rock

- Infectious Diseases · Health Conditions · Scottish Government

Al­ready, much has been said about the road to re­cov­ery or‘ nor­mal­ity’ after corona virus. Cer­tainly, there are as­pects of pre-covid life we all want back. But the ques­tion of re­turn­ing to life as be­fore is up for de­bate in a more se­ri­ous way than it was after pre­vi­ous crises, like the 2008 fi­nan­cial crash.

Plainly, long-term fi­nan­cial re­cov­ery will be a cen­tral part of gov­ern­ing from now on. How­ever, the coron­avirus pan­demic has once again re­vealed in­equitable work­ings of so­ci­ety and de­liv­ery of health and pub­lic ser­vices that need re­dress­ing as com­pre­hen­sively as any eco­nomic strife.

We know that the black and mi­nor­ity eth­nic (BAME) pop­u­la­tion is more sus­cep­ti­ble to coron­avirus than the white pop­u­la­tion, high­light­ing not only the piv­otal front-fac­ing roles BAME peo­ple play in the NHS, but rightly bring­ing back to the fore dis­cus­sions of them any­way sin which BAME peo­ple have poorer ac­cess to ser­vices and op­por­tu­nity more widely.

The stats are sim­i­lar for those from poorer back­grounds. Fur­ther­more, we saw how is­land and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties could be sus­cep­ti­ble in a con­cen­trated way if a vi­tal lo­cal shop or ser­vice be­came a hot-point of in­fec­tion. While th­ese ex­am­ples are spe­cific to coron­avirus, in truth they am­plify the in­equal­i­ties we know ex­ist in many other ways.

To rec­tify th­ese in­jus­tices, tack­ling in eq­uity and in­equal­ity, and in­creas­ing of di­ver­sity, in­clu­sion and eq­ui­table op­por­tu­nity for all can­not be solely pref­er­en­tial out­comes on our path out of the pan­demic. They must be fun­da­men­tal com­po­nents of the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic poli­cies of re­cov­ery.

Not only is this the right and just thing to do but, help­fully, the num­bers show that in­clu­sive poli­cies in busi­ness and gov­ern­ment pol­icy pave the way for greater eco­nomic pros­per­ity. In­deed, 2018 Mck­in­sey re­search showed that com­pa­nies with greater di­ver­sity per­formed bet­ter than their less-di­verse com­peti­tors. Not only does di­ver­sity en­cour­age cre­ativ­ity and new ways of see­ing things, but al­lows space for those with dif­fer­ing ex­pe­ri­ence per­form in ar­eas in which they can thrive.

Let’s take Scot­land’s thriv­ing data and te chi nd us try as an ex­am­ple. There al­ready ex­ists a skills gap here, and it is one which is likely to be com­pounded by un­for­tu­nate - but-in­evitable rises in un­em­ploy­ment after coron­avirus. Train­ing and hir­ing new tal­ent is an ab­so­lute ne­ces­sity for this in­dus­try’s suc­cess.

So how might more di­verse hir­ing and train­ing prac­tices give im­me­di­ate ad­van­tage? For a start, 73 per cent of firms re­quire ad­di­tional data an­a­lyt­ics skills. It is the case that many with Asperger’s and autism can far ex­ceed neu­rotyp­i­cal peo­ple’s per­for­mance in data an­a­lyt­ics, cod­ing, de­sign, and many other roles in the sec­tor. Sim­i­larly, those with ADHD are more adept at util­is­ing cre­ative and un­con­ven­tional think­ing, which can trans­late into bet­ter de­sign and prob­lem solv­ing.

Sim­i­larly, it is well-doc­u­mented that AI al­go­rithms deal­ing with hu­man data in­her­ent bi­ases against un­der­rep­re­sented groups. Nat­u­rally, when a di­verse work­force de­vel­ops th­ese al­go­rithms, bi­ases are ad­dressed and the per­for­mance and prof­itabil­ity of the al­go­rithms is strength­ened.

To boost eco­nomic growth and cor­rect the in­jus­tices high­lighted by coron­avirus, gov­ern­ment must en­cour­age busi­nesses to im­prove op­por­tu­nity and di­ver­sity in the work­force. But, to do this, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment needs only dou­ble down on many of the poli­cies it is de­vel­op­ing al­ready. For ex­am­ple, the pro­pos­als for the AI Strat­egy for Scot­land puts in­clu­sive growth at its core and aim to en­sure that ‘no one is left be­hind’ as tech­nol­ogy changes the way gov­ern­ment, so­ci­ety and the econ­omy work.

Through trans­par­ent and ac­count­able gath­er­ing of data, and the sub­se­quent devel­op­ment and use of AI, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment can help busi­nesses reach those at greater risk of miss­ing em­ploy­ment and train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, while de­liv­er­ing ser­vices more eq­ui­tably via dig­i­tal means at the same time.

Equally, the AI Strat­egy com­mits to the nec­es­sary pro­vi­sion of hard­ware and ex­pan­sion of dig­i­tal skills train­ing avail­abil­ity, too.

The re­al­i­sa­tion of the ben­e­fits of di­ver­sity and in­clu­siv­ity have not arisen solely due to the pan­demic. For years now, ef­forts have been made to cor­rect in­jus­tices and the pub­lic de­sire for greater equal­ity is well estab­lished. None­the­less, as we plan our course out of the coron­avirus pan­demic, we can strike out, re­newed in the con­fi­dence that the path to re­gained pros­per­ity is paved by di­ver­sity, in­clu­siv­ity and the tack­ling of in­equal­ity. Michael Stur­rock, Head of Pub­lic Af­fairs, DMA

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