Building your business: Consider Dan Rooney Rule for a diverse hiring pool

07/29/2014 12:00 AM

07/25/2014 2:43 PM

When Facebook, Google, Yahoo and LinkedIn recently released their staff demographics, they revealed a startling lack of diversity in tech. Despite that the majority of Facebook users are women, nearly 70 percent of their employees are men (and 91 percent are white or Asian).

And this lack of diversity is by no means limited to a particular industry, as the upper echelons of our country’s largest companies also remain predominantly white and male. Fortune magazine reports that of the Fortune 1,000, only 51 have female CEOs, or about 5 percent.

One could speculate for a lifetime as to the reasons the numbers are what they are. But time spent pointing fingers could be better spent seeking solutions. What can we, as entrepreneurs, do to improve the situation? Where can we look for examples of what works, when it comes to diversity?

As a former management consultant, there’s nothing I love better than a good sports analogy, so I propose that business owners of every size take a good look at the NFL’s Rooney Rule. The Rooney Rule was named after Dan Rooney, chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and requires every team in the league to interview at least one minority candidate whenever a coaching or general manager job comes open.

According to ESPN, since the rule was implemented in 2003, 12 minority coaches have been hired, compared to only six in the 80 years of the league’s history prior to the Rooney Rule. While the rule has not completely escaped controversy, overall it has been credited with rapidly increasing the percentage of minority coaches.

One of the reasons I like the Rooney Rule for business is that it deflates the false choice that is often used as an objection: “Should I hire the minority applicant for my open position, or should I hire the best candidate?” Of course you should hire the best candidate for the job. But perhaps we would discover that the best candidate for the job is a minority if we put forth the effort to cast a wider net.

Another reason I like the Rooney Rule for business is that it works with the familiarity principle, also referred to as the “mere-exposure effect.” This basically suggests that the more we are exposed to people and things, the more familiar they become, and the more we tend to like them (which incidentally, also explains many workplace romances). So by encouraging employers and hiring managers to seek out diverse candidates, simply with the goal of interviewing them, we can build our comfort with job candidates who may not fit the expected pattern.

And if the Rooney Rule makes sense for full-time hires, then it might also make sense applied more broadly, like when we’re choosing consultants, suppliers and strategic partners. As entrepreneurs, we have enormous latitude when we choose with whom to do business, and with that freedom comes a very special opportunity. Without layers of hierarchy or bureaucracy, we can simply start widening our searches to be more inclusive, and start making positive change immediately.

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