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    Discover CEO Talks Black Neighborhood Call Center On Freakonomics

    Discover CEO Talks Black Neighborhood Call Center On Freakonomics

    The new episode of Freakonomics Radio, one of the most-listened-to podcasts in the world, takes a trip to the South Side of Chicago to visit the new Discover call center in the neighborhood of Chatham.

    Discover CEO Roger Hochschild tells host Stephen Dubner that, when they were looking to build a new call center, he saw companies like Amazon building their new facilities in well-off, largely white neighborhoods. But, inspired by a talk by Ibram X. Kendi, he wanted Discover to create more opportunities for Black Americans.

    The resulting Chatham center turned out to be quite different from Discover’s other call centers. One reason, Hochschild says, is that elsewhere employees want to work from home. Here they want to come in.

    HOCHSCHILD: In the Chatham center, the representatives are coming into the office, but a lot of them are really excited to do that. Part of it is the commute, right? The combination of the short commute plus the great environment — you know, we provide free food in the center. It’s really a vibrant culture, and so we’ve got employees there coming in and very happy about it.

    DUBNER: Why do your call center employees at the Chatham site want to work onsite? I appreciate what you’re saying about it’s a nice site, but I’m guessing the other sites in Arizona and Utah were nice as well.

    HOCHSCHILD: So some of it depends on what your home is like, right? You need broadband access. You need a dedicated, quiet area to be able to take calls. And not everyone has that at home.

    The location has also affected how the company thinks about recruiting and employee retention:

    HOCHSCHILD: Well, we’re seeing that in terms of the performance of the center. The Chatham center is performing equal to all our other centers, other than in employee attrition, and there it is significantly better.

    DUBNER: Black men typically have a much higher unemployment rate than Black women. Do you have any ideas or plan to address that?

    HOCHSCHILD: Yeah, we’re tackling that in the recruiting side. And one of the great things about Chatham is it’s had us rethink all of our policies — where we recruit, how we qualify employees. In particular, Black men are more likely to have some sort of criminal background. We’ll accept people who have a criminal background. It depends a bit on what it is, but we think they’re selecting out of the process and aren’t even applying. And so we’re working with different partners to try and get a bigger stream of male applicants.

    But ultimately, is this “place-based investment,” as economist-lingo frames it, actually working? Dubner talks to several employees at the call center, as well as several economists, to find out.

    Listen to the episode “A Radically Simple Way to Boost a Neighborhood” at (there’s a full transcript there too) or wherever you get podcasts.

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