Combating bias

Harvard Business Review
for May 2015 has several very useful articles on making better decisions. Some of the material explicitly addresses biases that are concerned with gender, race, class, etc, but other very useful discussions address heuristics affecting our decision-making.

There is a general strategy that I’ve seen show up recently in books on practical decision making. It draws on Khanemen’s work on system one (intuitive) and system two (logical)thinking. Overcoming bias can involve getting system two to evaluate system one’s products. This strategy doesn’t solve all the problems, but it can help a great deal in lots of situations. I strongly recommend getting access to the HBR issue from your library, or even buying a copy.

Some tidbits

1. Use joint, rather than separate, evaluations. Evaluating decision alternatives simultaneously, rather than sequentially, reduces bias. For instance, a manager who is evaluating job candidates can avoid making biased assessments of their likely future performance by comparing them against one another rather than evaluating them separately. That’s because joint evaluation nudges employers to focus more on employees’ past performance and less on gender and implicit stereotypes, … Managers often use joint evaluations in initial hiring decisions, especially at lower levels, but they rarely take advantage of this approach when considering employees for job assignments and promotions.

2. Holding individuals accountable for their judgments and actions increases the likelihood that they will be vigilant about eliminating bias from their decision making. For example, a study of federal government data on 708 private-sector companies by Alexandra Kalev and colleagues found that efforts to reduce bias through diversity training and evaluations were the least effective ways to increase the proportion of women in management. Establishing clear responsibility for diversity (by creating diversity committees and staff positions, for example) was more effective and led to increases in the number of women in management positions.