Why Tech Needs The Rooney Rule

Something that you’ve likely never heard uttered is that an industry should look to the National Football League (NFL) for social cues. The league has been scandal-ridden for decades, and has consistently fallen flat in its responses to domestic abuse, cheating, health and wellness and drug scandals.

Really, the only thing the NFL has gotten right is the Rooney Rule. The Rooney Rule is named after Dan Rooney, the Chairman of the Pittsburg Steelers and former head of the NFL’s diversity committee. Instituted in 2003, the Rooney Rule requires that NFL teams interview underrepresented minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs before making a final hiring decision. (There is no requirement to hire minorities.)

Prior to the rule, 70 percent of the NFL was non-white, yet minorities made up less than 6 percent of head coaches and senior personnel. Moreover, research done by Janice Madden and Mathew Ruther from the University of Pennsylvania surfaced an even more egregious trend: Higher performing black coaches were being fired at disproportionately higher rates than their non-minority counterparts.

Most NFL teams are still made up of mostly minority players. Some of the most loyal fan bases are in cities where minorities make up the bulk of the population, especially in iconic NFL cities such as Oakland and Detroit. The NFL game has advanced, and the league has profited handsomely because of the innovations of minority players. Some of the most prominent players in the NFL, such as Russell Wilson, Troy Polamalu (retired) and Calvin Johnson are minorities.

The current tech industry is, in many ways, similar to the Rooney Rule-less NFL. According to the Pew Research Center, minorities consume social content at higher rates the non-minorities. Additionally, minorities are some of the most technologically savvy and mobile groups.

Diversity is not an issue tech companies can just punt to the next generation.

Many of today’s tech product innovations come directly from the contributions and feedback of minorities. Minorities are some of the most followed celebrities on social media (see Beyoncé). Yet time and time again we see diversity reports showing low minority employment across all tech companies.

It sounds like the tech industry needs a Rooney Rule. A Rooney Rule in tech will:

1) Help expose hiring managers to candidates they may not have otherwise considered. There doesn’t need to be a quota or preferential consideration — just consideration.

2) Provide qualified minorities access to jobs that their network would have historically precluded them from learning about, and thus applying for.

3) Create more sustainable and diverse companies. Diversity is critical to success, especially in an ever-changing America, where minorities will be the majority come 2050.

Diversity is a net win for everyone.

If the Rooney Rule was able to increase the NFL’s number of minority hires from 6 percent to 22 percent, tech companies should give it a try as well.

Facebook has. And while the jury is still out for Facebook, more tech companies should take the courageous, and business savvy step to implement a Rooney Rule. Diversity is not an issue tech companies can just punt to the next generation. It’s something we need to tackle now.