Design to Eliminate Bias

Last Friday I saw an article on the website of a reputable British news agency asking if female leaders are disadvantaged by media bias. It pointed out that women such as Hillary Clinton (US presidential candidate) and Theresa May (UK Prime Minister) have their choice of clothing discussed in the media while their male counterparts seldom if ever do. Ironically, the article appeared in close proximity to one with the headline “Bikini-clad Swedish policewoman stops thief” and a photo of the officer doing so.

It would seem that even when discussing the media’s attention to female leaders’ attire, the media continues to focus on what women wear when they make headlines. This bias appears to be just as prevalent in the East as in the West – Japanese politician Koike Yuriko (who was elected Mayor of Tokyo last Sunday) is another example of a woman who has been criticized what she wears – in her case apparently “too much makeup”.

The article referenced work by researchers at Northwestern’s Kellogg Business School in Illinois which found that companies see a decline in their share price if they receive a lot of media attention having appointed a female Chief Executive. However, if a company gets a lot of attention having appointed a male Chief Executive, the share price gets a boost.

The current issue of the Harvard Business Review has an article about designing a “Bias-Free Organization”. It focuses on biases that influence diversity. These are biases that managers can act to reduce by – to go back to my previous blog – designing processes to eliminate them.

Bias

The article – which focuses mainly on gender bias – points out that corporate “diversity training” has been found to be ineffective in changing attitudes (no surprise really as bias tends to be in the domain of the subconscious and very difficult to overcome). It cites an experiment run by researchers at Yale into anti-bias training effectiveness that found the training had “almost no impact” and then promotes the use of process design to help overcome bias.

Before you decide that your organization doesn’t have bias, I should warn you of a bias known as “the bias blind spot” where we have a tendency to believe we are less biased than others, so you should do some checking to be sure.

A number of years ago, during an Excellence Assessment of a company in India, a BEX colleague and I were discussing diversity with the company’s top management. They were proud to highlight that they had a diverse workforce as they employed Muslims as well as Hindus in key roles and also had a female manager. In their minds they had diversity. My colleague, who is Indian, acknowledged this but also commented that there was no way for a person in a wheelchair to access company’s headquarters so that they were not quite as embracing of diversity as they might believe. It is all too easy to miss ways in which one can be biased, so it is worthwhile having somebody do a sanity check for you.

The pursuit of excellence requires the minimization of bias – it results in better decisions and better teams. The HBR article contains some good ideas on how to eliminate gender bias in your some of your processes, so I would recommend giving it a glance.

How Archery can Help you get Taguchi’s Point

A few days ago, in conversation with Vicki Hall (the Institute’s most recently elected fellow), the subject of quality came up. Vicki’s a Business School professor and she was looking for some way to use a game to teach people about how to manage and improve quality.

In the course conversation, Taguchi’s loss function was mentioned. Taguchi was one of the many Japanese who had the opportunity to learn from W. Edwards Deming and Walter A. Shewhart (names worth googling if you don’t know them) after the Second World War, and his thinking contributed to the birth of “continual improvement”, or kaizen, among other things.

Taguchi held that quality decreases as variation from the target specification increases. In other words, “loss in value” increases as variation increases.

If you think of archery, when you hit the bull’s-eye your quality is “as required” and there is no loss …but the more you miss the bull’s-eye by, the greater your loss even if you are still hitting the target (are within “tolerance”) and not missing it altogether.

Taguchi Loss Function

As it’s a useful way to explain the thinking behind the Taguchi Loss Function (the name of which is enough to scare people) so I thought it would be good to share it.

On Benchmarking

Last week I presented at the 1st International Benchmarking Conference in Tehran. It was an interesting experience – and one which taught me quite a lot about our host nation.

I gave the opening presentation, so my theme was broad. While preparing my presentation, I decided to provoke some thinking so, rather than expand on the merits of benchmarking, my approach was to give examples of the risks of benchmarking without adequate thought. Specifically on:

  • What to benchmark
  • How to benchmark
  • How to interpret benchmark information
  • How to communication and share benchmarking findings

The key message was that benchmarking is a great tool but it needs to be used properly. I summed it up as “a hammer is a great tool but if you use a hammer to brush your teeth, you won’t have much to smile about”.

high-jump

Great care needs to be taken when benchmarking to ensure you benefit and don’t harm your organization. If you would like to learn about benchmarking or face a challenge where you think learning best practice could help, get in touch with the Institute.

Does experience help?

Common sense would seem to dictate that people with experience – those who have worked with a process – will get better results than those who are new to the job.

The old adage “practice makes perfect” reflects this and concepts such as on the job training are built on it. But is it correct? Deming’s answer to the question was a blunt “no” …before he qualified it with: “not if we are doing the wrong things”.

The common sense nature of his reply is such that some may discount it as being of little value. However, the challenge is in realizing when you are doing the wrong things – and Deming was challenging people to think.

Since at least the 1800s, people had jumped the high jump using variations of a forward jump. Then in the 60s an American, Dick Fosbury, decided to throw himself headfirst and backwards over the bar!

high-jump

The media thought it was a “lazy jump” but he won an Olympic Gold in the 1968 Olympics. Soon every high jumper realised they were doing the wrong thing and copied his innovation.

What periodic process review do you have in your organization to check if your processes are the right ones?