Is CPI an inclusive place to work? Our journey to tackling bias in the workplace

Three months have passed since the murder of George Floyd triggered protests around the world demanding an end to institutional racism. Five months have passed since police killed Breonna Taylor in her own home, a violent crime that Ta-Nahesi Coates ascribes to a belief in Black people as “disaster, as calamity, as a Great Fire upon the city” that was “demonic, unnatural and inhuman”. And only this Sunday passed, another Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot by Wisconsin police several times whilst entering his car with his three young children inside.

These brutal killings have caught the attention of governments, corporations and citizens globally who are calling for an end to the systematic oppression of minorities, from our civil courts to the boardroom, and a dismantling of old systems that have disadvantaged those from minority ethnic backgrounds. This new wave of protest has given movements like Black Lives Matter new energy, but fighting for racial justice is neither a new protest nor a new problem

In many ways the last six months have presented the perfect storm in our democracies; a steep decline in trust and belief that our public institutions are invested in serving their populations, an increasingly divisive rhetoric used to drive separation between different groups (see latest depiction of migrants crossing the borders in Dover, England) and a global pandemic that has disproportionately affected the most vulnerable with higher morbidity rates and increasingly volatile socio-economic outcomes.

But once the storm dies down, what will organisations do next to ensure that the intent behind these movements is not forgotten? And better yet, that we are successful at dismantling and reversing these unfair systems. 

For our part, CPI, with the help from our friends at Applied, have been exploring what it means to create fairer systems in the workplace to ensure that we are focused on equity and belonging for all. We’re only at the beginning of our journey, and are continuously learning about how racial and other prejudices can creep into the way we operate, what we say and how we engage our audiences. But, we’ve set out a pathway to ensure that our actions as an organisation contribute to eradicating systemic injustice.

Addressing bias in our hiring systems

For four years now, CPI has used the Applied platform to manage our recruitment process, but we recently decided to dig a bit deeper to understand how it works and how we can put it to best use. So we invited Applied Co-Founder Kate Glazebrook to speak to the team about Applied’s journey from an experiment cooked up by the UK government’s Behavioural Insights team (aka the Nudge Unit), to a widely used tool with impressive results:

60% of candidates hired through the platform are hired into jobs they would otherwise not have been considered for, the overwhelming majority of which come from under-represented groups.

Kate explained the behavioural science behind Applied’s design:

“Our brains have two operating systems: System 1 (fast and automatic, makes decisions based on learned behaviours and past experiences) and System 2 (analytical and deliberative, takes time to assess situations and takes decisions based on logical evidence based information). A hiring process wants our system 2 brain, but often our system 1 brain interferes in the decision making. We also cannot have our system 2 brain in full effect all the time, or we’d be working in overdrive. Our brain cannot systematically analyse every situation from the moment we get out of bed to last thing at night – it’s exhausting. We need system 1 to operate a lot – we can design tech so that when we take the fast quick decisions that it is taking into account the most important data and information so we don’t get caught out.”

Unfortunately, System 1 brain has been interfering with hiring processes for decades, and the rate at which organisations systematically rate applications based on candidates “not looking the part” has not changed in over 50 years. Since the 1970s, experiments have been run where identical CVs with different names are sent out to employers to investigate which names have the highest call back rate for interview. Time and time again, underrepresented groups are systematically more likely to be overlooked for those jobs in comparison to their white counterparts: African Americans need 50% more CVs to get the same rate of callback than their white counterparts, this is the equivalent of needing 5 more years of job experience. This experiment has now been conducted in 30+ countries with similar, disappointing, results. More recently, Nuffield College ran a similar experiment in the UK that found that Pakistani, Nigerian, South Asian, Middle Eastern and North African names are less likely to be successful in a job application process that uses CVs.

It found that there had been no real reduction in the rate at which underrepresented groups accessed job opportunities since the 1970s, despite the world looking very different nowadays.

So how does Applied overcome this? By removing CVs from the process altogether. Instead, candidates answer task-based questions to allow for evaluation based on skills and knowledge not name, age, ethnicity and educational background. With Kate’s help, we’ve reviewed how we’ve been using the platform in the past, and we’ve made some adjustments to our questions and review process to make sure that hiring decisions are not distracted by pieces of information that do not display or determine whether candidates are a good fit for a job.

This is a step in the right direction towards a more inclusive workplace, but of course, recruitment and hiring are only one piece of the puzzle. We’re also looking beyond our recruitment process to understand how CPI can create psychological safety for all employees to develop interpersonal trust and mutual respect where everyone feels like they can bring their true selves to work. We’re working hard to create a workplace where everyone belongs and we foster a learning environment, where employees feel safe to take risks, contribute to discussion and decisions and challenge the status quo. Everyone belongs.

Where to from here? Our roadmap to a more psychologically safe work environment

We’re continuing the conversation within CPI to ensure that we do not lose sight of our diversity and inclusion ambitions, even if the noise and momentum dies down globally, we can be accountable to ourselves to keep our foot on the gas and make real change within our own organisation. We are learning more about our role in dismantling unjust systems and ensuring that institutional racism becomes a thing of the past. To do this, CPI is not only rewiring its people practices, but looking across the organisation to create a truly holistic diversity and inclusion agenda. This means:

We are pressing ahead with these ambitions and thinking thoughtfully about how to upturn systems of injustice to become an example to public institutions and other organisations of how to be inclusive and impactful organisations. The journey will be long, and we’re likely to trip up and make mistakes. This is why we’re continuing to learn and grow as we develop our vision for diversity and inclusion. To do this, we’re also looking outwards for advice and inspiration. Below are a couple of things the team is reading, watching and learning about:

  • From Kate and Khyati at Applied, a blog about BLM and implicit bias – including a list of resources at the end which may be helpful to some
  • This video from Applied, with accompanying slides and video, provided a good overview on how to de-bias processes
  • Why I am no longer talking to white people about race – Reni Eddo-Lodge book and podcast 
  • Brit(ish): On race, identity and belonging – Afua Hirsch (book)
  • Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala (book)
  • Code Switch by NPR (podcast)
  • Fruitvale Station by Ryan Coogler – 2013 (Film)
  • I Am Not Your Negro by Raoul Peck – 2017 (Film)
  • 13th by Ava Duvernay – 2016 (Netflix)