Companies of all sizes and statures have come under fire for creating offensive and racially insensitive products. While product teams don’t intentionally bake bias into their products, it begets the question: whose voices are incorporated into the decision-making process, and how does this impact the end product?
In a recent webinar we were joined by Amy Lazarus, the founder and CEO of Inclusion Ventures, an organization that helps companies make good on their promise of diversity, inclusion, and equity. Through consulting and strategy work, the team aims to decrease bias and enhance inclusion through the workforce, work culture, and work product.
There are always going to be development costs associated with building and improving products, but creating a better UX for more users can help boost product engagement, and ultimately, the bottom line. In Amy’s workshop, she walked through some of the factors that play into biases in product management, plus tips for identifying bias traps and strategies to overcome them.
Here are four of our top takeaways from the session:
1. Our biases are always present
Amy explained that biases aren’t inherently good or bad and used fire as a comparison — fire can be used as a source of heat, but can also burn a building to the ground. What’s important is to recognize the fact that we have biases, and then actively work to overcome them. Many different types of biases can occur in product management, but one clear example is selection bias, for example when teams tend to listen to the “loudest” users, aka those that respond to poll questions or provide proactive feedback.
2. We need to design products for a worldview
Everyone sees the world through their own unique lenses, but we aren’t always aware of how these lenses show up in our work. In other words, product managers (PMs) don’t purposely create products to exclude or offend people — but they don’t always realize how their lenses play an active role, either.
This can start in the very early stages: for startups, who has access to capital? Who do founders trust and bring in to help with their emerging companies? Most of the time, it’s people who are similar to themselves. Knowing that this is only one example, what can product managers do to address it? Amy explained that PMs need to change their mindset and ask: how can we design for lenses, and for a wider range of lenses? While a change in mindset doesn’t always mean a change in action, rethinking our approach is a key first step.
3. Data isn’t free of biases
Product managers leverage data in nearly every part of the development lifecycle. Data is often thought of as objective, but just because a product decision is based on data doesn’t mean that it is free of bias. Sometimes, the data can be skewed or an algorithm can overcorrect in ways that exclude a particular group from the resulting dataset. Product professionals need to be cognizant of this and continuously ask what biases might be present when they interact with data.
4. We can work to “interrupt” biases
Recognizing our biases is an important first step, but Amy explained that product managers can actively work to interrupt biases, too. Here are four ways she recommended:
- Inquire about the lenses at play and work to increase the diversity of lenses
- Build bias checks into your product processes
- Ask clarifying questions during brainstorming or planning sessions (e.g. how do you know? What’s missing? Can you help me understand?)
- Call out biases when you see them
If you’re interested in learning more, here are some resources that were shared in the session:
Since conversation and dialogue about this topic is so important, we invite you to share your worksheet on our Product Craft Slack channel to continue the conversation. If you’d like to watch the full workshop session, check out the recording here: