Stop Talking About the Rooney Rule

Magical thinking will not move the needle on your diversity efforts, or your career, if your leadership is not accountable for results.

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Luke Visconti is the founder and CEO of DiversityInc. Although the title of his column is meant to be humorous, the issues he addresses and the answers he gives to questions are serious — and based on his 17 years of experience publishing DiversityInc. Click here to send your own question to Luke.

Over the weekend I received an email from a diversity consultant who wanted to “depoliticize” my column about Rex Tillerson and his speech on race and diversity management at the State Department.

Secretary Tillerson talked about using the “Rooney Rule” in the State Department. That “rule” is nothing more than magical thinking in most circumstances.

Background: Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney, in 2003, made it a policy to interview one “minority” for every coaching position. It was a result of bad publicity following two prominent Black coaches being fired, despite winning records. Attorneys Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran later underscored the perception of discrimination by writing a study documenting how Black head coaches, despite winning a higher percentage of games, were less likely to be hired and more likely to be fired.

Because overt discrimination is costly in the public sphere, the Rooney Rule was instituted and fines were levied against two teams who did not interview a minority candidate for a coaching position.

But racism is persistent. Here are the results 16 years later: 70 percent of football players are Black, 20 percent of quarterbacks are Black, 10 percent of coaches are Black, 0 percent of owners are Black.

The very definition of antebellum plantations.

Are Black people too stupid to be coaches or quarterbacks? Charles Murray or the Freakonomics racists might say yes, but here’s the truth — interviewing someone who was not as prepared as everyone else being interviewed is a set up for failure. Quietly, behind closed doors and closed minds, the results will be attributed to race and/or gender (in a corporate setting). But the truth is that preparing people for management positions is management’s responsibility — and if management is all white men, what is the real color of failure?

If you don’t give your people equitable opportunities to be assigned responsibilities that lead to leadership positions, don’t have discipline in your mentoring, don’t have an executive diversity council to oversee and hold accountable the process, you will produce the same results you currently have in most companies: white men in almost all positions of responsibility. That is the case at ExxonMobil, that is the case in the State Department, that is the case in most corporations, and under current leadership direction, it will never change. Never.

Regarding “depoliticizing” my initial column, you can’t depoliticize this subject. Counting enslaved Black people as three-fifths of a human being is politicizing race (Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution). In the recent past, with a Black president, corporate diversity leaders could all try to nudge and wink at recalcitrant white executives in an effort to make progress without rocking the boat too much — but that hasn’t worked. There has been very little progress for diversity outside of the DiversityInc Top 50.

Soft-pedaling this subject and expecting progress while attempting to not hurt any feelings by “depoliticizing” diversity is impossible with white supremacy, neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates being tacitly (and at times bluntly) endorsed by the president.

Here’s an example — a prominent CEO posted a diversity statement for a public website. From the CEO’s statement: “The despicable conduct of hate groups in Charlottesville last weekend, and the violence and death that resulted from it, shows yet again that our nation needs to focus on unity, inclusion, and tolerance.” Two sentences later the CEO wrote this: “We have worked with every U.S. president since Woodrow Wilson.”

Two comments:

1. “Tolerance” of hate groups or of those who do is acceptance and endorsement of hate groups. If you are going to “tolerate” me because of who or what I am, please know your tolerance is belittling and humiliating. I can tolerate lima beans in a stew. I do not have the imprimatur to “tolerate” another human being; nobody does.

2. Woodrow Wilson was the worst racist to ever occupy the White House. He was a horrible, horrible man. Either the CEO does not know American history or is sending a dog whistle to the White House, which is currently occupied by a white supremacist. By the way, the CEO is a member of a well-known sexist golf club.

Either way, it’s wrong. And here is this CEO’s diversity results: A leadership team (19 people) that is 5 percent non-white, 26 percent women.

Should you work for people like this? What does their leadership say about the future of this company? Their innovation? Their commitment to ethical behavior? Their stock is down for both one-year and five-year periods. Magical thinking does not increase stock prices, either.

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12 comments


  • Rita Holmes-Bobo

    Luke Visconti’s article, “Stop Talking About the Rooney Rule” should be required reading for every CEO and and it’s a great training topic for use in diversity trainings!

  • Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey

    My wife’s sexist boss gave her an “interview” for a transfer opportunity, which would have been more impressive if he hadn’t already announced that he was giving the job to a young, unqualified male. (He has since fired her, since she persisted in being older than the boss AND female.)

  • CTE, Kaepernick, Rooney Rule; you can’t make this up with the NFL. If I were smart enough to spell out an acronym using “NFL” talking about plantation and slaves, I would share with Diversity Inc. and all who are commenting right now.

  • Luke I would like to submit to you an addition of NFL related statistics on what was previously shared.

    You shared: Here are the results 16 years later: 70 percent of football players are Black, 20 percent of quarterbacks are Black, 10 percent of coaches are Black, 0 percent of owners are Black.

    Outdated stats but relevant and interesting nonetheless showing more divide.

    Special teams are also primarily comprised of Caucasian players (97% in 2013 and 98% in 2012.
    http://www.uptownmagazine.com/2014/10/racial-breakdown-of-the-nfl-report-card/

    There is also a divide with actual NFL employees headquartered out of NYC. Most are White. Can’t remember where I read that stat.

    • The NFL is a plantation, which is why they aren’t giving former players health care for life which, given the evidence of brain damage from playing football, is immoral.

      When the plantation owner’s enslaved people could no longer work his fields, he ignored them.

  • You: Stop talking about the Rooney Rule

    Rep. Maxine Waters, recently: Stop being ashamed of Affirmative Action

    Two sides of the same coin, to me.

    • Same side of the same coin as far as I’m concerned.

      Rooney rule was implemented because Cyrus Mehri and Johnny Cochrane proved there was active and overt discrimination. There still is.

      Affirmative action was put into place for the same reason.

      Both policies have the same problem: poor preparation. Public schools are still segregated, resources and results also segregated and since the dotard was elected red states have been engaged in making them more segregated. Given the aging of our nation’s workforce, it’s foolish, but look at the GDP per capita of red states versus blue. Foolish is as foolish does. BTW, Hillary won 64% of our national GDP, most of that was in sanctuary cities. Instead of solving their laggard GDP per capita problems, red states are doubling down on the racist hate that got them into their economic doldrums. Same for the NFL. Instead of solving the race problem and dealing with CTE, the owners are plugging their ears, squeezing shut their eyes shut and drinking their Dom Perignon. Yeah, that’ll work.

      https://www.theverge.com/2017/7/25/16025146/chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy-football-cognition-health

      https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2016/11/29/another-clinton-trump-divide-high-output-america-vs-low-output-america/

      http://www.newsweek.com/race-schools-592637

      • Both policies have the same problem: poor preparation. Where we differ, perhaps, is in the use of force. Feds probably should encourage lesser authorities and establishment to encourage the less-prepared to prepare more, but should feds force lesser authorities and establishments to overlook the less-prepared’s shortfalls? Should they force the less-prepared to prepare better?
        Don’t know if you’ve ever even seen a live horse, but, as the old adage contends, it is usually neither simple nor cost efficient to force a horse to drink, having led him to water. If the horse is actually thirsty, he’ll lower his head, but the horse is much bigger and stronger than you, and to drink or not is his decision.

        • That applies to the white people in economically laggard red states too. Instead of hanging around the vape shop and hoping for the dotard to bring back coal jobs, maybe getting off the stool, being able to pass urinalysis, pushing away from the Golden Coral trough and learning something might help. That horse won’t drink on its own either and it had a 300 year head start.

          Getting the horses to drink needs to be our priority, not threatening a country with $535 per capita GDP with annihilation.

          • You, a diversity and inclusion leader(!), don’t much like white people in red states, I’d guess, ’cause you often write quite-bigoted, sneering, even vile, stuff about ’em. Lucky for you not many of ’em are reading it, let alone copying your words to SnapInstaFace.

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