The society we deserve

April 6, 2018



Politician David Lammy gives a new twist to the maxim Leaders We Deserve
This week [April 1-6, 2018] has seen an outbreak of violent deaths through knife crimes in London. It became a national story with social and political dimensions.
Grieving relatives told harrowing stories of children killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sociologists vied with politicians to extract some morsel of digestible sense. Mostly, the views were as old as the problems of violence. No-one mentioned the story of Cain and Able, although it is not difficult to construct an explanation about the uncontrollable and wrathful anger of a spurned child in later life.
I did not expect much from radio-chat shows running out of the need for new experts, and short on fresh ideas. To my surprise, the labour politician David Lammy exceeded my expectations.
David Lammy is MP for Tottenham, a socially deprived  inner London constituency where he was born and grew up. In an interview on BBC Radio 4 he pointed angrily at the four violent deaths this year in his own constituency, and the failure of government and authorities (in his opinion) to act. He is seeking  consensual all-party commitment to action.
His long campaigning have led him to conclusions about the impact of availability of drugs on London’s streets (‘as easy as ordering a pizza’,) gang culture, no social prospects for young people on the Capital’s poorest estates, and leadership which seems to be arable to act. His anger is as much against London’s socialist mayor as against the Conservative and former Conservative/Social Democratic governments.
His abilities helped him win scholarships and eventually places at London University and Harvard. He has supported Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn, while preferring to remain a back-bench MP, seeing it giving him more independence in his political campaigns. on behalf of his constituency and his passionate campaigns against social inequality.
In the radio interview, The vivid turn of phrase which caught my attention was that in a democracy ‘we get the society we deserve’. Subscribers to LWD will see the fresh insights this provides to the many posts on Leaders we deserve, over the last decade.

Althea Efunshile: A case of selection bias?

December 13, 2016



A decision to reject the appointment of Althea Efunshile as a non-executive board member of Channel Four by Secretary of State Karen Bradley has fuelled a controversy about conscious and unconscious biases in the selection process

The story hit the headlines recently as it emerged that Althea Efunshile was the only non-white candidate on the short list, was highly recommended by a previous minister of culture, and appeared to have considerable talents that would have made her a strong candidate.

Unconscious bias?

The Guardian offered a mild rebuke in a Leader column [8th December 2016] arguing the possibility of unconscious bias of interview panellists. In an article on the same day, the paper set a more outraged tone:

Synopsis of the Guardian article:

The former culture minister David Lammy has said the decision to block the appointment of a black woman to the all-white board of Channel 4 “beggars belief” and has called for the precise reasons to be revealed.

The former deputy chief executive of Arts Council England Althea Efunshile was informed last week that her appointment had been blocked by the secretary of state, Karen Bradley.

This was despite it being recommended by regulator Ofcom, which is tasked with finding, vetting and appointing Channel 4’s board members and it having the support of the broadcaster’s chairman, Charles Gurassa.

[Mr Lammy] who is currently chairing the all-party review of racial bias in the criminal justice system, said the case raised important questions.

An advertisement seeking non-executive directors for the Channel 4 board was published in the spring and, in June, the Guardian understands, Efunshile was contacted by headhunters about applying. An interview then took place in July with the panel chaired by Dame Patricia Hodgson, chair of Ofcom. The interview would appear to have gone extremely well as her name was quickly put forward to the DCMS for rubber-stamping.

She was recommended with two others also with strong business backgrounds, who were later ratifiedOver the summer the roles were advertised again and in September two further names, were submitted by Ofcom.

Ms Efunshile was later informed by headhunters that her appointment had been blocked because she did not meet the criteria laid out in the original job application. The other four candidates were formally appointed the following day.

Insensitivity, or conscious biases?

I suggest that the explanation of the effect of unconscious bias is hardly convincing. It could hardly have escaped notice that the board was lacking in female and non-white members (no-women, no persons of colour). A more plausible explanation is that of conscious bias.

Appointment by box ticking

Another convincing explanation lies in the practice of reducing the process to box ticking against specific critieria to be found on the job application document. This may actually succeed in reducing unconscious bias, but does nothing to address the tin-eared insensitivity displayed by compliant appointment boards.

I understand such processes are to be found elsewhere in sports management, and have spread even to the search for England football managers.