How Cognizant is driving social mobility from application to onboarding and beyond

Dec 12, 2023 | Case studies, Diversity, Home Featured

Cognizant’s graduate candidate experience is achieving equal representation across all socio-economic deciles, and radically improving representation in terms of ethnicity and gender.

Vanessa Soames, social value director at Cognizant, believes that driving social inclusion drives all inclusion – from ethnicity to gender. So, when she began designing the early careers strategy at Cognizant from scratch, she put social mobility at its heart.

The more traditional approach was replaced by consideration about the individual they were trying to attract, who might be the first person in their family to have worked for a big corporate.

How could they support them in their journey across six vital touch points – attraction, application, assessment, preboarding, induction and during the graduate programme itself?

Attraction – data, data, data

Cognizant relied on research, data and insights to show where graduates from under-represented socio-economic groups might be looking for career opportunities, and what they might be looking for in a graduate programme.

The data trail was used to reach their audience in highly bespoke ways – targeting particular courses, or very niche media. Partners helped produce personalised communications, with tailored messaging that sold what the programme was offering in ways that appealed directly to Cognizant’s key audiences.

Application – keep it simple to include not exclude

What was important was making that vital first contact and connection with their audience. People don’t want to spend hours doing application forms, so Cognizant just asked for a name, contact details and some very broad academic criterion. Key information around social mobility and diversity was also requested, but not compulsory.

This identified whether they were attracting a diverse and representative socio-economic group right from the start. And they were!

Cognizant weren’t looking at sifting people out through the application process – rather they were looking to include them. For example, candidates don’t have to come from a technology background for a technology role – Cognizant will recruit and train people who have the potential to be taught those skills.

Assessment – make it a two-way process

Assessment was redefined as a two-way process – empowering candidates to make an informed decision on whether it was right for them, as well as whether they were right for Cognizant.

Cognizant were interested in finding a cultural fit, so candidates went through a cultural and job preview process, answering questions on how they’d respond to different scenarios. It gave them a real insight into what it meant to do the job they’d applied for and if this was an organisation they’d feel comfortable being in.

The final two parts of the assessment were strengths-based – looking at people’s potential and placing heavy emphasis in their scoring methodology on resilience, a real thirst for learning and adaptability.

Throughout the application process, candidates were offered a personalised mentor, who they could choose themselves from a wide bank of Cognizant’s people. Whilst applying, and throughout application, assessment and beyond, they could leave questions for the mentor online on any topic.

Preboarding – an accumulation of experiences that makes you feel like you belong

Eli Onboarding were called in to help with the preboarding stage, to help set this hugely diverse graduate cohort up for success.

Driving social mobility is all about inclusion – an accumulation of experiences that makes you feel like you belong. Eli focused on three different areas to achieve that in their preboarding strategy:

Graduates need to understand how you do business

The ‘how’ is critical. It’s not who you are or what your business does, but how people at your organisation do business day-to-day.

If you think about people from certain socio-economic backgrounds, they might not have experience passed down from their parents about what it might be like to work in a technology department of a big organisation or an international bank. It’s important to explain everything clearly – key systems, how your timesheets work, the dress code, how to book holiday, hybrid working etc.

Employers need to help build the necessary skills and knowledge to ensure no one feels left out or excluded from day one.

Students need to build social and cultural integration

This includes building connections with other students who will be graduates with them, as well as people throughout the organisation who are going to support their career.

At Cognizant, Eli connected them through an online portal with their early careers team, and their development manager who was there at the assessments. They were also connected to their mentors and their portal introduced them to technical mentors, too, who could help them build tech skills.

They also had a line manager and buddy – both were trained to make sure they knew how to support their new graduate or colleague. Development managers were also mental health trained.

This support team, and the students themselves, were kept on track and in touch through a portal with personalised timelines, diarised events and catch ups, interactive social walls for people to build connections, and instant messaging.

This meant everyone knew what they had to do and when. Nothing was left to chance and no one fell through the cracks.

Support and wellbeing is key

Starting a new job can be a scary time – so imagine if you’re the first person in your family to do this in a big corporate firm.

The Cibyl Student Mental Health Study 2023 reported that 87% of students from low socio-economic backgrounds have experienced mental health issues. The majority of employers reported in ISE’s Student Development Survey that the number of graduates and apprentices with mental health issues has increased.

Cognizant development managers were trained in mental health support. In addition, all graduates were linked to the Cognizant wellbeing team. This meant they had easy access to mental, physical and financial health sessions, guided meditation, yoga or flex and stretch at your desk.

Finally, the onboarding portal that Eli developed for Cognizant to preboard the graduates also tracked wellbeing. Every time graduates went on the site (an average of 80 times in the preboarding stage) they would rate their wellbeing. If it fell low, the system would automatically let their development manager know, so they could reach out.

Induction – key training, support and a watchful eye on mental health

The programme starts with an introduction, then six weeks of technical training for their specific team, which is done in small clusters. Again, they have their own technical mentor who will sit in with them every day, teachers, development manager and line manager.

Graduates then work shadow, working on one client, with lots of support. This introduces them to all the concepts they’ve learnt in induction about how to work in this environment, and with clients, as well as incorporating their technical training.

They then move to being officially ‘on programme’, working with clients. Within this, there are five extra days of training spread over 18 months, and the very first one is a mental health resilience workshop where they’re taught how to look after their own mental health.

They take an action plan away from this, which is continually referred to with their managers, so any wobbles or concerns are noticed quickly.

Through the portal, they log how they feel every Friday, which Vanessa’s team can track for trends – so tech is driving consistency of support. It’s also providing data and feedback at every stage from graduates and the people supporting them to help improve the process as each cohort arrives.

Cognizant (and Eli!) are very proud that driving social mobility is also driving inclusion in other areas. They have been awarded by the Bridge Group, who independently reviewed their data and results: “The equality we observe in the application and hiring data at Cognizant is unprecedented. The care and rigour applied to identifying the best talent irrespective of background is exceptional, and we hope that the firm will continue with this commitment and share learning with others across the sector.”

Vanessa and Noel Thomas, creative director at Eli Onboarding explained how Cognizant is driving social mobility from application to onboarding and beyond at ISE’s EDI Conference.

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