India, UK partner to build a digital economy with inclusivity and diversity at its heart

KT Rajan, Head of Technology & Innovation (India), British Deputy High Commission and Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford, Deputy High Commissioner explain why it's key for diversity and inclusion to be at the core of digital transformation.

KT Rajan, Head of Technology & Innovation (India), British Deputy High Commission and Jeremy Pilmore
KT Rajan/Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford/British Deputy High Commission/Getty Images

The necessity for organizations around the globe to seriously work towards diversity and inclusivity extends beyond the oft-heard CSR moot point – it has a significant impact on the balance sheet as well.

A McKinsey report forecasts a 3.5 percent increase in earnings for every 10 percent increase in gender diversity. Furthermore, the report reveals that ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to earn returns that exceed the industry median.

CIO India, in an exclusive interaction with KT Rajan, Head of Technology & Innovation (India) and Deputy Head of Mission at the Department for International Trade, British Deputy High Commission and Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford, Deputy High Commissioner highlights why it’s critical for digital transformation to have diversity and inclusivity at its core.

Rajan and Pilmore-Bedford talk about ways in which organizations can bridge the skills gap and why industry-academia collaboration democratization of emerging technologies are sure shot ways of putting the economy on the fast track.

Furthermore, we take a look at how some of the UK-based new-age tech companies harness artificial intelligence to create a level playing field, but most importantly, how they ensure bias doesn’t creep into AI algorithms.

Bridging the skill gap calls for all hands on board

Both Rajan and Pilmore-Bedford believe that industry-academia collaboration goes a long way in creating employment and equipping people to thrive in a technology-driven market.

Rajan says that the British Deputy High Commission and the ‘Tech for Good’ initiative offers various types of scholarships and tech grants – both for companies at the startup stage, where they can get exposure to bigger companies and resources and also the opportunity to work with some of the best institutions in the UK like Oxford, Cambridge, London Business School and the London School of Economics.

5 Takeaways to Bridge the Skill Gap IDG created

5-Point Action Plan to Bridge the Skill Gap

Emphasizing on the need for better industry-academia collaboration, Rajan points out that if you pick any sector, there's a lot of data that's being collected by companies, but the data is unstructured. On the other hand, academia has a better and clearer understanding of structured and unstructured data and what can be done with both.

'Tech for Good' is also looking at partnering with The Alan Turing Institute, a front-runner in specializing in AI, to have academicians from the institute visit India and liaison with academicians from India's leading universities.

KT Rajan, Head of Technology & Innovation (India), British Deputy High Commission KT Rajan/British Deputy High Commission

"If you pick any sector, there's a lot of data that's being collected by companies, but the data is unstructured. On the other hand, academia has a better and clearer understanding of structured and unstructured data and what can be done with both."

-- KT Rajan, Head of Technology & Innovation (India), British Deputy High Commission

In addition to this, Pilmore-Bedford shares that there are efforts underway to form tech clusters or consortiums that uses technologies like AI and data analytics to improve the quality of education for the underprivileged. 

He adds saying "We also have a lot of education tech companies both in Britain and in India, and from time to time, they have visited each other's countries to collaborate and co-innovate.”

Democratize emerging technologies and looking beyond Tier-1 hubs

Pilmore-Bedford believes that it's key for smaller companies to harness the best out of emerging technologies and develop their own ingenious solutions.

While India has seen its fair share of tech unicorns, the fact remains that the startup economy has remained confined to a handful of Tier-1 cities. In comparison,  there is a notable trend is the emergence of tech clusters all over the UK – for instance, Manchester is a prime centre for digital technologies, Dundee and Newcastle in gaming, Leeds is the next biggest centre for FinTech (after London), and Belfast in cybersecurity. 

The Deputy High Commissioner observes that the situation in India is quite similar to the US. "In the US, Boston, New York and San Fransisco see the biggest share of VC investments. Similarly in India, the startup ecosystem is confined to a handful of Tier-1 cities," he says.

Turning the focus towards the importance of sandbox environments, Rajan says that the next step in industry-state collaboration is the provision of sandboxes for specific technologies.

In addition to the success and subsequent mushrooming of FinTech and SaaS companies, he highlights that there are several environmental startups that have piqued the interest of VCs. He recounts Tech for Good's Go Global program identified 18 startups that were taken to the UK to gain exposure to that ecosystem. Among those was a company that was built upon the concept of Water-as-a-Service. 

Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford, British Deputy High Commissioner Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford/British Deputy High Commission/UK Gov

"There's a whole lot of satellite data from Indian space programs and this is freely available. It’s important for smaller companies to be aware of this data so they may put it to good use and this can further enhance the environmental startup space in the country."

-- Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford, British Deputy High Commissioner

Adding to Rajan's point, Pilmore-Bedford cites the example of agri-tech companies that use satellite data to advise farmers on the best time to plant crops and harvest. He points out that there is a whole lot of satellite data from Indian space programs and this is freely available.

It’s therefore important for smaller companies to be aware of this data so they may put it to good use and this can further enhance the environmental startup space in the country.

The dawn of new sectors – RegTech takes centre stage

In addition to environmental startups and close on the heels of FinTech, the enterprise space has witnessed the emergence of a technology that has now emerged to be an industry in itself – RegTech.

In the wake of the Reserve Bank of India's 2018 ruling mandating all payment systems' data to be stored in India, the BFSI sector has witnessed an increased focus on RegTech. Additionally, state-run banks posted losses amounting to USD 6 billion – pushing the country to the brink of a major financial crisis.

Roughly a decade ago, the UK witnessed a similar crisis stemming from cheap credit and risky mortgages. Earlier this year, the island nation faced a fair bit of financial incertitude due to the uncertainty around Brexit.

With new financial regulations in place, the financial sector soon realized the role technology could play in achieving those mandates and thus was born the industry of regulatory technology or RegTech as we know it. And the industry has been on an upward trajectory ever since. Investments in RegTech had increased by over five times, touching USD 43.5 million in the year 2019.

Suade, a UK-based RegTech company was founded on a fundamentally simple vision – to prevent the next financial crisis. The way it goes about achieving this objective is by bridging the gap between regulation and technology.

We created an open source data format with sponsorship from the European Commission. It essentially provides a data schema which is technologically digestible and definitions that come directly from the regulations

                                                                              -- Sarah Murphy, Legal Head at Suade

The company created technology at a level of transparency, orderability and automation demanded by financial regulation. Murphy says that by working in tandem with the UK government, the company not only aims at delivering technological solutions but also leverages modern technologies like machine learning to identify legislative burdens and improve policymaking.

What puts diversity and inclusivity at the heart of transformation

The fact that bias manages a way to creep into AI algorithms, despite programmers' best efforts, is not lost on AI practitioners. 

Why Inclusivity and Diversity Matter IDG created

Why Inclusivity and Diversity Matter

Biju Menon, CEO of FairHire – a company that uses AI for an applicant tracking system to eliminate bias – believes that a person coming from an impoverished background can bring in a whole new perspective in problem-solving. "If you don't mix street-smartness with traditional business models you learn at B-schools, you won't have a diverse way of looking at ways to solve problems," he explains.

When it comes to human capital, a lot of organizations view a disruptive technology like artificial intelligence with wariness and are unwilling to take a risk. Menon says that the way AI models are built can trigger bias.

We need to ensure that technology is developed by a diverse group of people to solve the diversity problem.

                                                                    -- Biju Menon, CEO , FairHire
A key factor some of the legacy organizations overlook when it comes to engaging its millennial workforce stems from the failure to address individual traits of its employees.

Ethical Angel, a UK-based hiring tech firm that uses AI algorithms to map individuals' skillsets, champions individuality by mapping skills, interests and motivation factors of employees.

Alexander Fahie, Founder & CEO of Ethical Angel believes that leveraging open source algorithms is a great way to start using AI models – you don't necessarily have to write code from scratch. 

Sharing a key takeaway, Fahie says that IT leaders ought to look beyond upskilling their workforce and think long term. He says, "If we look at upskilling, the question that technology needs to answer is: How can we upskill individuals at scale?"

A glass ceiling that’s proving too hard to break

The week following March 8 sees its usual share of stories around gender disparity and why it’s of crucial importance for the enterprise to bridge the gender gap. The proverbial glass ceiling though remains unshattered. The World Economic Forum estimates that said it would take 202 years for the global gender pay gap to close.

When technology has been able to solve pretty much every known problem in the past, why can't it be leveraged to bridge the gender gap? 

It's this idea that led to the genesis of Gapsquare – a company that develops innovative solutions for organizations to build an inclusive and diverse workforce. The company has partnered with industry heavyweights like Accenture, Vodafone and Babcock & Wilcox -- a large engineering company in the UK. 

Sian Webb, VP-Partnerships & Growth at Gapsquare says that gender disparity widens as you move up the ladder. "The older you are and the longer you've been in the company, the more likely it is for you to see pay disparity," she says.

5 Takeaways to Build a Successful Economy IDG-created

5 Takeaways to Build a Successful Economy


The gender pay gap in India is at 19 percent on an average, but that increases to around 30 percent for highly-skilled roles. The situation in the UK is no different with an 18 percent average and that number has remained stagnant for some time now.

Webb points out that the financial sector sees the worst gender disparity. "In the UK, HSBC has a pay gap of around 60 percent. The engineering sector also sees a significant pay gap, it averages around 30 percent. Interestingly, law firms also see a disparity that ranges between 25 to 35 percent," she reveals.

While it’s important for organizations to do their part in creating a thriving, diverse and fair economy, business leaders – who are primarily revenue-driven – cannot ignore the fact that a diverse workforce adds to the profit margin.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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