Data Capital: Access and equality firmly on the agenda

David Lee previews The Scotsman’s Data for Diversity conference, set to take place in the Capital later this month

How do we put data to use for the benefit of everyone? That’s the theme of the 2022 data conference organised by The Scotsman in conjunction with the Data Driven Innovation (DDI) initiative.

Data for Diversity will look at how data and artificial intelligence can be deployed effectively to deliver greater inclusion, equality and diversity.

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Four panel sessions will feature very practical examples - including how data can support more diverse health outcomes and help to create a fairer financial future.

Image: Adobe StockImage: Adobe Stock
Image: Adobe Stock

The first session, Using Data and AI to shine a light on inequality and bias, will be kicked off by Francesca Lawson and Ali Fensome, co-founders of the Paygapapp.

The app was deployed on International Women’s Day 2022 to respond to social media posts from organisations about their diversity credentials - by using an algorithm to highlight the gender pay in those organisations.

Lawson explains why she and Fensome created the app: “I want to make sure social media is an honest place, not just a place for businesses and companies to hide behind a smokescreen.”

Keynote speakers at the event are Renata Avila and Dr Nakeema Stefflbauer, two leading authorities on deploying data to tackle bias in society.

Dr Stefflbauer, an American academic and tech professional based in Germany, will discuss her efforts to tackle bias in recruitment generally - and in the technology sector, through her work with social enterprise Frauenloop.

She is motivated by making “the tech industry live up to what it is supposed to be.” In an interview in The Scotsman’s data supplement, she said: “That ability to transform society is what hooked me into working in tech. It’s about attacking problems of inequality and access.”

Talking about algorithmic bias, she said: “What frightens me most is that when I talk to headhunters and recruiters, they don’t know how these algorithmic rankings work.Recruiters are just assuming, as is usually the case with algorithms, that recommendations are coming like magic from computers that have a lot of data. If it says these are the best candidates, they are the best candidates.”

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Lawyer, author, and advocate Renata Ávila will also bring a powerful message about how data can empower people and improve equality. The Chief Executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation also co-founded the A+ Alliance, to redress the historic exclusion of women from technology and data systems.

In an interview with the DDI initiative, Avila said: “The whole way algorithms are created and the datasets feeding them needs to change priorities and move from reactive to proactive, throughout the whole cycle. From conception to deployment and evaluation of AI systems, we should be studying how to serve people better, and serving better includes taking steps to massively reduce and even eradicate all gender inequalities in our public digital systems.”

Jarmo Eskelinen, Executive Director of the Data-Driven Innovation initiative, created as part of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, said: “Data is an enormously powerful tool in addressing issues of diversity, equality and inclusion – but data is not knowledge. It requires human interpretation. This event aims to highlight just how powerful it can be - in tackling institutionalised bias, delivering more inclusive health outcomes, creating a fairer financial future and much more.

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“I’m excited to hear from leading thinkers like Renata Avila and Nakeema Stefflbauer and to shine a light on specific examples of data’s vital role in building a more diverse, equal and inclusive society.”

The panel session on health features Manira Ahmad, Chief Office of Public Health Scotland, and Roger Halliday, Chief Executive of the recently-created Research Data Scotland, set up to “promote and advance health and social well-being in Scotland by enabling access to public sector data about people, places and businesses for research in the public good”.

The session also includes contributions by Pooja Jain, founder of dementia app CogniHealth and Sarah Stock, Professor of Maternal and Fetal Health at the University of Edinburgh.

Nicola Anderson, Chief Executive of FinTech Scotland, will chair the session on Data for a Fairer Financial World, with the panellists including Dame Julia Unwin, Chair of Smart Data Foundry and a former CEO of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Other panellists are Deborah Womack, Partner at EY, and David Goodbrand, a Partner and data expert from Burness Paull.

The final session of the day focuses on how we build a diverse workforce and includes data worker Ixone Saenz Paraiso, describing her challenge in doing a data degree through sign language - and her work in creating a glossary of terms to help deaf people better access the data world. Claire Gillespie of Skills Development Scotland will also take part in the session.

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Data for Diversity is an in-person event which takes place at South Hall Complex, University of Edinburgh, on Thursday, 29th September, from 9am-4pm. See the full agenda and book here as an in-person or online delegate:

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