In 2003, the NFL established the Rooney Rule, which requires that teams interview at least one minority candidate for open head coaching and senior level positions. However, as Dubin points out in an article titled, “The Rooney Rule appears to mask a larger racial problem in coaching,” this Rule fails to apply to lower level roles, which are filled with more minority candidates and thus could be an excellent feeder pool for these higher-level roles. In the past few years, there has also been a trend in which companies have adapted this Rule to apply to their diversity recruiting efforts. In theory, this adaptation seems like a great idea. However, in a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article by Johnson, Hekman and Chan, they point to new research that comes to the conclusion that when there is only one woman or minority candidate in the finalist pool, their odds of being hired are not only slim, but, as they state “statistically zero.” This research not only supports Dubin’s point and research cited in the article, but also brings to light the fact that the Rooney Rule as it currently stands is meaningless in diversity recruiting efforts.
In my mind, the solution to this dilemma is easy: adapt this Rule to require at least two minority or women candidates per role across ALL levels. Why two? According to Johnson, Hekman and Chan, this is the number at which chances increase in the consideration of hiring minority candidates. The article points out the reason for this is that when there is only one minority or woman in the candidate pool of an otherwise homogenous slate, their uniqueness stands out as a “deviation from the norm,” which the interviewers in turn perceive as a risky decision. While this perception is inaccurate, just like all biases, it is important to understand, recognize and mitigate.
Some might argue that this sort of process is reverse racism. However, as Johnson, Hekman and Chan state, “This argument implies that there are fewer qualified women or nonwhite candidates than white male candidates,” which is simply not true. In fact, “nonwhite employees and women outnumber white men in the U.S. workplace by a margin greater than two to one, and women are now more likely than men to graduate from college.” This same truth applies to Black and Hispanic talent, as I pointed out in my post, “Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Diversity Recruiting.” Overall, the current lack of workforce diversity is not a pipeline issue. It truly is a strategy, headcount, resources and commitment issue.
I must also point out the obvious in stating that the Rooney Rule is outdated. Put in place in 2003, it was a novel concept during its time. But, now, in 2016, it’s time to be more aggressive and creative in implementing measures and metrics to support diversity recruiting efforts. A Rule, which really should be referred to as a guideline in the corporate setting, is futile without other measures, such as committed recruiting and sourcing headcount, hiring goals and accountability. From what I have seen, the current state of the workforce and challenges surrounding this current state are much more complicated and systemic than the simplicity of the Rooney Rule can accurately capture.
In addition, the Rooney Rule was made to mitigate an issue in the National Football League (NFL), not one in corporate America. While the end goal, to hire more minorities in higher-level roles, is one that obviously translates to corporate America, it is truly a different beast. As I have stated before, best practices are not necessarily effective practices for every company, as every company is unique, from its hierarchical structure to its culture. As such, it is dangerous to simply transpose one practice to another company without making some adjustments. It is even more dangerous to do so across industries, for the NFL has very different and distinct needs from, for example, the pharmaceutical industry. Each industry generates revenue differently. Each industry conducts business differently. Just these two considerations alone are reason enough to support the need for differentiated diversity recruiting programs and measures.
It is also important to note that the Rooney Rule only addresses one part of the hiring process. If diversity of slates is indeed not an issue for a company, then this type of guideline is null and void. In order to pinpoint the possible steps of the hiring process in most need of intervention, one must conduct a pipeline progression analysis, which is something many companies avoid, as it could point to disparate impact, thus possibly leading to a lawsuit if the disparities are not addressed. To this concern I say, be brave, be bold and identify the root case or causes of the issue at hand. It is only by doing this work that we can learn and identify whether the challenge at hand is a sourcing issue, a candidate management and advocacy issue, interview process issue or a combination of all of these, and commit the appropriate resources to then strategically and tactically mitigate the issue or issues at hand. I cannot stress enough the importance of doing this work, which identifies whether or not and where minority candidates potentially fall out of the hiring process at disproportionate rates to the majority.
All in all, the Rooney Rule is an outdated and inappropriate model for today’s diversity recruiting initiatives. As Dubin states, “the Rooney Rule at the top of the pyramid may in fact just be a Band-Aid on a larger issue.” Indeed it is. While Dubin points out research to support this statement in this specific industry, Johnson, Hekman and Chan point to additional research that is not industry specific, bringing to light the need to permanently dispose of this model. It is time to be more creative, more aggressive and more strategic. As the Reverend Jesse Jackson stated at PUSHTech2020, “Every stage of our struggle must be marked by something.” In 2016, this “something” is closing the diverse talent gap. Let’s start this work by ripping off the Rooney Rule Band-Aid and devising solutions that address the workforce of the future. I’m ready to do this work. Are you?