Data can answer big diversity and inclusion questions


2 min read
10 Mar
10Mar

Before I began working in diversity and inclusion I spent many years in technology working on systems integration for Accenture and Cerner and then as a project manager at the BBC. Much of the work that I do in diversity and inclusion now incorporates technology, user experience and design and innovation in order to scale up inclusive organisations. Cognisess is a software provider I am particularly interested in and featured the company as a case study in my book.


Cognisess is a software platform that produces predictive people analytics, providing organisations with the right information to develop a high-performance workforce. Its end-to-end employee lifecycle solutions optimise the potential of the talent pool and supports retention. CEO, Chris Butt, describes the software as an enabler allowing businesses to ‘better understand their talent potential’ and giving individuals ‘an insight into who they really are’. Chris expresses a desire to democratise human capital, believing it should be the first thing that leaders look at on the company’s balance sheet.

Start with the data

Dr Boris Altemeyer, the company’s Chief Scientific Officer, leads on the system’s psychology and neuroscience which give individuals equal chances to show what they can do. The technology produces objective metrics that support unbiased decision-making. Data collection uses gamification of information processing and decision-making activities, a strategy aimed to put people at ease. The platform measures fit for team and culture, with activities that involve prioritising or sacrificing values. The algorithm works out their abilities and values in the background. Employers often focus on where a candidate rates highest, but Boris recommends analysing what their trade-offs were. Was it supporting others or achievement and recognition that was the first to go under pressure? Through data, Cognisess aims to mitigate the variability of human interpretation, neutralising notions of culture and team fit gathered from curriculum vitae and job interviews alone.

Interrogating the data: creating a different conversation

With Cognisess data, leaders can ask the system a range of questions to improve business performance. Leaders can plot out and visualise how people are thinking and see in which areas they might differ or are the same. Alignment across teams and culture is visualised over multiple domains, to see where a team is stretched. Individuals are represented anonymously, by dots on a screen. Fit is always determined by the company’s own proposed values.

Cognisess data can answer key questions: do we have enough leaders, problem solvers and planners? Inevitably there will be variables outside the raw data, but the data can be the starting point. Cognisess can be used to quickly formulate teams and offset expedience and similarity bias. If a team is too streamlined, it can lead to communication issues. Visualisations of teams that might have a propensity for group think and could struggle with solving wicked problems is powerful. The data informs team reconfiguration prioritising diversity of thinking. Using this data-led approach, recruitment practices become more inclusive and objective.

Changing the culture: how business can hardwire diversity and inclusion in their DNA

Cognisess is non-prescriptive and can be used as an ‘out of the box’ or as a highly bespoke solution. It can ‘hold the mirror up’ as companies clarify their cultural values in relation to the values of candidates and employees. It’s always down to the companies to decide their values, Cognisess helps to visualise them.

Cognisess wants data to be accessible and transparent, to inform operations. They believe data can answer big questions such as, ‘Do we have enough cognitive diversity in the team?’ Since people can get fixed in their ways, the platform gives organisations the option to get the data to do some of the work of driving change. Cognisess emphasises that the platform works best with the human decision-making element, which is more sensitive to factors like context.

Cognisess can get diversity through the door and create a more inclusive culture. The platform supports talent attraction and screening, allowing hirers to be blind to factors other than how candidates think, their talent potential and where they would fit. If an organisation truly commits to developing inclusion and diversity in its workforce Cognisess can accelerate that process.