The A-Z of Disruption: D is for Diversity

27th August 2019

Many of the Tech Corridor's most successful businesses boast diverse workforces, but how important is their diversity when it comes to being a disruptor?

In the latest of our A-Z of Disruption series, we asked two experts: why is diversity important in the development of disruptive technology? Here’s what they said.

The A-Z of disruption brings together thought leaders from East Anglia to answer questions on topics relevant to disruptive companies. It accompanies The Disruptors, our new video series showcasing interesting businesses from around the region.

Find out more about The Disruptors here.

"Build an innovation culture linked to diversity"

Cyberfen's Deborah Cubbin

Deborah Cubbin is co-founder of Norwich cyber security consultants Cyberfen.

She says: “Diversity has become a trending topic for companies of all sizes and industries, but especially the fast-paced technology industry.

“There is no doubt that diverse teams are proven to be more innovative and as innovation should be the lifeblood of any organisation, it is imperative that all companies build an innovation culture that is linked to diversity. That said, we should not just think of diversity as gender specific, it should incorporate a myriad of viewpoints, backgrounds, skills and life experiences. The more diverse the workforce, the more creative and innovative the ideas will be and that will lead to a far quicker response to an ever-evolving technological landscape that embraces everything from advanced robotics, to artificial intelligence, to space colonisation.

“Five years from now, 35 per cent of skills considered important in today’s workforce will have changed, says the Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum. And, according to PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, 85 per cent of CEOs whose organisations have a diversity and inclusion strategy say it has enhanced performance. This combined with the fact that highly inclusive organisations rate themselves 170 per cent better at innovation, according to Bersin by Deloitte, leads to the simple conclusion that diversity rules!

“So, an organisation that goes beyond the obvious sentiment that inclusion is the right thing to do will attract great talent. The right talent pool will, quite simply, win more often and more consistently leading to higher financial rewards.”

"Diverse teams will create the best possible outcomes for AI technology"

OKRA CEO Loubna Bouarfa

Loubna Bouarfa is founder and CEO of OKRA Technologies, a Cambridge company developing an artificial intelligence platform to help deliver better outcomes in healthcare.

She says: “It is helpful to first consider what we mean by “diversity” – at OKRA Technologies, we think of it in a human team context, as a multitude of people from different backgrounds, languages, genders and ethnicities coming together to challenge each others’ perspective and improve the results of our technology.

“In the realm of artificial intelligence, each company uses it differently. This is because AI adopts the values of each company in different ways and in different societies, depending on the goal it has been programmed to achieve and the specific data it uses. Understandably, many are afraid to AI systems will make biased decisions, because the groups developing this technology may be too similar and only represent a certain sub-group of the society that their technology will come to serve.

“Diverse teams will create the best possible outcomes for AI technology by challenging and reducing bias. For example, in a recent project with a global pharmaceutical client, we adopted AI to process written clinical trial statements, written by patients, on the topic of how they were responding to a certain drug. The notes were written in different languages, and we were tasked with combining, analysing and predicting these treatment responses, so the researchers could be confident in their conclusions. The problem was, different words communicate different feelings in different languages – so how would we be sure that we understood the information given to us? Luckily we speak nine languages between our ~20 staff members, are female-led and including a range of educational backgrounds (including geography, physics, anthropology, music, film, finance, engineering, computer science, etc.), and as we came together to analyse the words, we found a middle ground and better understanding of the data, which led to better performance.

“In this sense, diversity matters much beyond the interpersonal dynamics of a team – it directly influences the success of our work and the accuracy of our technology. All AI companies should commit to building a diverse team, and to defining accuracy with the broader society in mind.”