Inequalities in society were laid bare by the pandemic – Michael Sturrock

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

Michael Sturrock, Head of Public Affairs, DMA

Already, much has been said about the road to recovery or ‘normality’ after coronavirus. 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.

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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 the many ways in 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 inequity 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 tech industry 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.

Of course, the realisation of the benefits of diversity and inclusivity have not arisen solely due to the coronavirus 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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