Because it’s 2015: Quotas, Metrics, and Prejudices

Moneyball by Michael Lewis is one of my all-time favourite sports books. When it was published back in 2003, it revolutionized professional sports and how general managers assemble rosters. At the time, the idea that A GM would use metrics to analyze and evaluate players was heresy. Nowadays, there’s only a few Luddites who decry metrics in sports. Tellingly, the teams that embrace metrics are largely champs: Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Cardinals, San Antonio Spurs, etc.

I won’t get into all the benefits of metrics, but I want to highlight how it can reveal things that are hidden from the naked eye. In baseball, there used to be a lot of emphasis placed on how a player looks when he plays, even going so far as to having to pass an “eye candy test.” Pitchers who had a bizarre delivery were passed over even though they put up great numbers. Hell, if you had an ugly girlfriend it meant that you had low confidence and probably weren’t ready for the Big League.

Moneyball was about how Billy Beane and the Oakland As used advanced analytics and statistics to filter out all that noise. They amassed undervalued players to put together a winning team at a fraction of the cost their competitors were spending.

The As have yet to win a World Series, but other teams, notably the Boston Red Sox, have used Beane’s method to win.

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“Haven’t the Sox won three World Series since 2004?” Yes they have, Justin.

Metrics can disarm prejudices you didn’t even know you had.

For instance, as late as the 1970s major orchestras were almost entirely male. Now, you’d think that a symphony would be an ideal meritocracy. Who cares what you look like, surely all that matters is how you play? Hold on. They started holding blind auditions and the representation of women quintupled.

As well, there was a study in which participants evaluated applications for a job as chief of police. A male candidate without formal education was “street smart,” but a woman with an identical resume would be dismissed for not having enough education. It was the same case vise versa.

If you have a man and women with identical qualifications, they’ll just invent reasons as to why the man is more qualified. (source)

What’s interesting is that this isn’t necessarily a result of mustache-twirling misogynists (although they do exist). Most times, it’s a bias or prejudice that is invisible to the well-intentioned interviewer.

So, how do we overcome this? We count.

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“But what does this have to do with me?”

When picking his new cabinet, Justin Trudeau was very vocal about his decision to use a quota system. He wanted at least 50 percent women, along with representation from various ethnic groups. This of course set off the usual pearl clutching from conservatives getting all worked up over “merit.” As if politics were a perfect meritocracy where only the best and the brightest rise to the top.

It’s interesting too that these conservatives have little to say about the nepotism and cronyism in politics. Jeet Heer made a good few points on Twitter, countering Jonathan Kay’s attack on quotas. Kay calls himself “old school” in that be believes in merit, etc. Yet Kay got his break through the National Post, where his mom worked. Likewise, the Post is renown for its cronyism and nepotism, thanks to Conrad Black installing all his buddies and their families.

What’s interesting too is the assumption that women and minorities are automatically less qualified than old white dudes. I mean, these are MPs. They were all democratically elected by Canadian voters. They all deserve a shot at the cabinet. But let’s look at a few portfolios and see if they’re “qualified”:

Minister of National Defence: Harit Sarjjan, a decorated former Lieutenant-Colonel who did one tour in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and three in Afghanistan. He was also a police officer in Vancouver for eleven years. Who were Harper’s picks? First, in 2006, was Gordon O’Connor, who did actually have a long military career, but was shuffled out of the position after a year because of a controversy regarding lobbying and military contracts. He was replaced by Peter “I can’t buy fighter jets” MacKay, a lawyer and career politician. The came Rob Nicholson, a lawyer and career politician. And finally, last and probably least, Jason Kenney, a career politician. Damn, tough acts to follow!

Minister of Health: Jane Philpott, who has worked as a family doctor and also has a Masters of Public Health. She succeeds Rona Ambrose, who is a career politician and really likes Ayn Rand. Damn.

Minister of Science: Kirsty Duncan, who has a PhD from Edinburgh and is an adjunct professor at University of Toronto

International Trade: Chrystia Freeland, a Rhodes Scholar.

That’s only a couple, but they look pretty good to me. There’s no guarantee they’ll be any good but they certainly don’t want for any qualifications.

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“I had binders full of women!” Sure you did, Stephen. Sure you did.

I believe equal and diverse representation is important not just because it’s morally right, but because it is strategically advantageous. A heterogeneous cabinet will be more likely to consider larger variety of ideas than a bunch of old white dudes circle jerking. Who knows where the solutions to our problems will come from. We must cast as wide a net as possible.

Moreover, I often say that one of my great fears is that we are missing out on a singular genius because he or she isn’t given the opportunity to shine. Talent doesn’t always win out. History is full of unrealized potential because individuals were crushed by the machinations of prejudice. How do we know the cure for cancer isn’t waiting waiting for us if we’re only taking input from a sliver of the population.

cheers

-b

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~ by braddunne on November 8, 2015.

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