Lead Community Affairs Specialist (Left)
Director of Social Impact (Right)
In 2019, former Discover CEO Roger Hochschild was inspired to implement equitable practices across the company. To transform equity from concept to reality, Discover decided to challenge the standard corporate site selection bias of placing call centers in privileged communities, focusing instead on untapped neighborhoods in which Discover jobs could have long-lasting impact.
Two years later, Discover opened its newest call center in Chatham—a predominantly Black, low-income neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. By creating a fountain of opportunity and empowerment, that one business decision has paid dividends not only for Discover, but for community members as well. In this interview, we explore how Chatham and Discover continue to grow together in 2023.
If you would like to learn more about the motivation behind Discover's Chatham Call Center, check out this Freakonomics episode.
Victoria Rudd and Camille DeCicco of Discover are working to support and uplift the Chatham community. Continue reading to see how Discover is using its Chatham Call Center to learn more about what it means to be a good neighbor in the community.
What is your role at Discover?
Victoria Rudd: I am the Lead Community Affairs Specialist. I am based in Chatham and have been with the company for a little over two years.
I was greeted by a Soul Train line. I had never encountered that sort of energy at a job, and I think it really encapsulates the fact that at Discover, you can bring your full self.
Camille DeCicco: I am the Director of Social Impact. I have been with the company for a little over 12 years, and in my current role for a year.
What makes working at Discover special?
VR: The people make Discover special. I remember walking in at 6 AM on my first day; I was greeted by a Soul Train line. I had never encountered that sort of energy at a job, and I think it really encapsulates the fact that at Discover, you can bring your full self.
Discover is also full of opportunities to advance your career and do things that are not only impactful, but inspiring as well. I feel like Chatham exemplifies that perfectly.
CD: I started on Halloween of 2011, and I had a similar experience. I came into the office and people had gone above and beyond with Halloween lights. It was one of those things where if smoke machines had been allowed, there would have been smoke machines, spider webs, and so much more. The experience got to the core of what's unique about Discover—the people and the energy.
How have you measured your success at Chatham?
CD: We look at Chatham as our flagship social impact initiative because it is the embodiment of using your platform to advance equity. We really want to provide support to the community through jobs, but we also try to do so much more to be engaged with the neighborhood, such as volunteering and community events.
This approach has helped us be really successful in a number of ways. For one, our retention and engagement levels are on par or above those of any other Discover call center, so we know we are doing right by our employees.
We’ve also had exceptional success with preparing our employees for their responsibilities as customer service agents. Although the Chatham call center is relatively new, our agents’ customer service skills have quickly surpassed expectations. Because of Chatham, we’re working to implement the same models in other states, such as Ohio and Arizona.
Tell me about some of the entry level jobs at the Chatham Call Center.
VR: Discover prides itself on all of the career advancement opportunities that it offers. Many begin as a customer service agent. With time and experience, individuals can move up to managerial positions, such as an Area Manager. We have great examples of people that have done just that, even making it up to Director positions and beyond.
A lot of groundwork has to be set in order to successfully partner with workforce development organizations. They’ve been there to meet us, but we want to be there to meet them too.
CD: We are committed to providing as many career pathways to our employees as possible. Not only do agents have the ability to transition into senior leadership, but we’ve opened up the opportunity for them to transition into technology roles. We know Chatham is full of customer service talent, and we deeply believe that the community can also become a hub for STEM talent. Because of that, we’ve hired several tech teams at Chatham, sourcing from our agents.
What are the various ways that you source entry level talent? Where do you look?
VR: In our hiring, we prioritize applicants from within the community, especially employee referrals. We are also looking for those that have been searching for work for a while. Our partnership with organizations such as Skills for Chicagoland’s Future has really helped us meet these goals. Through Skills, we’ve been able to find wonderful applicants—those who are from Chatham and are also well-prepared for our work.
Our involvement in the community has also facilitated hiring. Whether through word-of-mouth or community events, members of the Chatham community have been quick to learn about the positions at Discover.
What if anything precludes an applicant from being considered for a role? Do you perform credit checks, background checks, or anything else?
VR: We are very inclusive in who we hire, and I think Discover shines especially bright when it comes to Fair Chance Hiring.
Fair Chance Hiring is the practice of refraining from asking about an applicant's criminal history before they are considered to be qualified for a role.
CD: We’ve joined Corporate Coalition’s Fair Chance Hiring cohort and are doing our best to have our background check process serve as a model for other organizations. Not only do we go the extra mile to help them understand what an applicant’s background means, but we also try to support the applicants themselves. For example, we explain to applicants opportunities they might look into pursuing to remove barriers to employment, or how to navigate the court system in order to provide us with the info we need to finish our background check process.
We are also trying to better communicate to applicants that our practices are equitable. We want to minimize the number of people that count themselves out before applying. We very rarely disqualify applicants who have records. When we do, it usually has to do with crimes involving dishonesty.
You mentioned that Skills for Chicagoland’s Future has been a partner to you. What are some other nonprofit organizations you’ve worked with?
VR: We’ve worked with various organizations, such as Cara Collective, Community Based Organization Collective, and Skills. They’ve been instrumental in helping us retain employees and become involved in the community. One wonderful way in which we’ve had the opportunity to engage with the community has been through the jobs fairs that these organizations host.
What are some of the challenges of working with nonprofit organizations engaged in workforce development?
CD: Working with these organizations is completely new to us. We knew from the beginning that workforce development agencies solve issues for talent pipelines, but we are just learning that they can also support our current employees.
We also want to make sure support is a two-way street between Discover and workforce development organizations. We know that they receive funding by achieving certain metrics regarding placement, retention, etc., so we are working to put that sort of tracking in place. A lot of groundwork has to be set in order to successfully partner with workforce development organizations. They’ve been there to meet us, but we want to be there to meet them too.
Battling inequity in Chicago has to be a collective movement.
VR: The main reason that people go to a workforce development organization is to obtain employment. However, for Discover, we are on track to exceed our goal of 1000 employees by 2024, and eventually, our initial hiring ramp will slow to steady state. As a result, we are brainstorming ways for us to continue partnering, even when we are no longer constantly employing large numbers of new people.
Are there any services you wish you could get from organizations that would further support your efforts?
VR: I would say my wish is for more organizations to include support that goes beyond people’s work-related needs. Ultimately, when a person is looking for a job, they are usually in need of other services within their lives as well. There are so many different factors that go into having a sustainable life. Employment is one of them, but you also have to factor in transportation, childcare, etc. As we build stronger partnerships with other organizations, we hope to implement that for our employee base, but we hope it becomes common practice in general.
How do you believe, if at all, Chicagoland employers should contribute to addressing poverty and inequality in Chicago neighborhoods?
CD: Battling inequity in Chicago has to be a collective movement. At Discover, we really try to employ our resources in order to advance equity. However, we are only one company.
Champion the voices, actions, and people that are already in the community. They carry both lived experience and answers. Often, the only thing that is missing is a platform to showcase that.
Organizations like Corporate Coalition and the Civic Committee are already working to get Chicago business leaders to incorporate more equitable business models. We want to drive that same momentum forward by using our experience in Chatham to educate other businesses about why they should pursue similar initiatives. Regardless of the challenges, we believe this to be the right approach for our company and Chicago at large. And if Chicago thrives, all its companies thrive.
VR: It is important to be mindful of how you come into a community. We really did our best to address community needs and serve its members when we came into Chatham. I deeply believe that if you enter with humility and a willingness to learn, you will encounter success like ours.
What advice would you give to other employers?
VR: Champion the voices, actions, and people that are already in the community. They carry both lived experience and answers. Often, the only thing that is missing is a platform to showcase that.