In the NFL and the majors, diversity playbooks face obstacles

In the NFL and the majors, diversity playbooks face obstacles


The end of the National Football League regular season on Sunday marked the beginning of two annual events: the playoffs, and the period when a wave of teams fire head coaches and general managers and begin frantic searches for their replacements.

The league has little control over the outcome of games. But over the past 20 years, the NFL has tried, and often failed, to change the structure of the highest ranks of football-related jobs at every club.

For a league in which nearly 70 percent of NFL players are people of color, it has been a source of embarrassment that the majority of coaches and executives have historically been white. To diversify teams’ leadership ranks, the NFL has largely relied on the Rooney Rule, named after the Pittsburgh Steelers owner and Adopted in 2003Under which each team was required to interview at least one black person when hiring a head coach or general manager.

Through rule expansions and other initiatives, the league and its teams have diversified the top front-office positions, including the assistant coaching ranks and team presidents. It has been less successful when it comes to head coaches; The NFL has just started this season Six minority head coaches Three of the 32 are black.

“It’s hard when something has been done a certain way for so long and you’re just trying to break down those barriers,” said Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations. He said the overall progress of the league encouraged him, but referring to head coaches, he added: “I still have to live in the reality of what the statistics actually say. And the numbers are still not what we would like.”

Nevertheless, the Rooney Rule has been the model in corporate America for companies that want to field more diverse candidates, even though the objectives of such initiatives are hotly debated in the public sector, particularly on college campuses. . The recent resignation of Claudine Gay, a Black woman, as Harvard’s president has been celebrated by opponents of DEI initiatives and disagreements over whether they are the best way to increase diversity or could instead be counterproductive.

Companies including Amazon and Facebook now have versions of it Rooney rules for his boardsAnything else shareholder advisor Pay particular attention to such initiatives when rating corporate diversity efforts. Like the NFL, many of these companies have seen an increase in diversity in certain areas.

Yet their goals have been slowed by institutional inertia, lack of tracking of diverse recruitment, and little or no incentives. Companies, like NFL teams, have found ways to get around the policies.

Pamela McElwain, who owns a company, said, “It’s one thing for the CEO to go out and say, ‘Yes, we need a diverse slate,’ and then you don’t ask any more questions.” Diversity MBA Media, has been tracking the diversity and talent development efforts of Fortune 500 companies and other large organizations for 17 years. “It all sounds good, but you don’t see it consistently demonstrated in those organizations because there’s no incentive, no accountability and no reason for anyone to make the next effort.”

Ms. McElwain’s data, which has not been shared publicly before, covers both global and regional companies in more than 30 industries, including financial services, health care and consumer products, with a total of about 40 million employees.

Ms. McElwain said that in 2022, 85 percent of the 489 companies she surveyed said they needed a diverse candidate pool when interviewing for management vacancies, down from 95 percent two years earlier. Only 36 percent of those companies had some type of incentive or penalty attached to their policies, which also included performance reviews and bonuses. Other Research 2022 saw a similar decline in corporate diversity efforts.

Companies that have set incentives or penalties to encourage the interviewing and development of workers from underrepresented groups have seen results.

The results were particularly striking among senior leadership, including vice presidents and other roles that are pipelines to future C-suite executives. At companies with incentives or penalties tied to diverse slates, people of color and women held more than 65 percent of the jobs, according to Ms. McElwain’s 2022 data. Hiring managers can’t be held accountable, and only 39 percent of the companies surveyed did not have diverse slate requirements.

According to Ms. McElwain’s data, the share of companies that say they need a diverse slate when hiring has grown steadily from 62 percent in 2013 to a peak of 95 percent in 2020, the year when Minneapolis had a George Floyd was murdered by a police officer. A national reckoning on race. The percentage declined in 2022 amid protests from those who say efforts to increase diversity and equality are discriminatory and often don’t hire the best candidates.

For example, in June, the Supreme Court struck down race-conscious college admissions. While the decision affects colleges and universities more than corporations, the ruling also push back The push by conservatives, who say diversity efforts exacerbate racial divisions and promote a liberal political agenda, has had a chilling effect.

Valerie Rainford, founder and chief executive of Ellory Talent Strategies, a company that uses data analytics to increase equity in companies, said she had seen a decline in potential clients last year after Mr Floyd’s killing.

“People in this area will grab onto the latest shiny object that they think is moving the needle, but without looking deeper into what actually drives the results,” Ms Rainford said. “Until we do that, I don’t think we’ll see real progress.”

He has shared a similar message with clients who have expressed skepticism about the Rooney Rule, citing the NFL’s mixed results, and telling them that such strategies require sustained effort and focus on the work at hand.

The NFL’s own efforts have shown that the Rooney Rule alone is not a panacea.

The league enacted this rule only after attorneys Cyrus Meharry and Johnnie Cochran Jr. threatened to sue the NFL for discriminating against black coaches. The consequences were immediate, particularly because Steelers owner Dan Rooney supported the rule named after him.

In 2007, two black coaches, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, faced off in the Super Bowl for the first time, and by 2011 a record eight head coaches were people of color. However, in the years after Mr. Rooney took leave from the league to become the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland in 2009, progress stalled and Black coaches expressed increasing criticism that teams were circumventing the rule and being punished for it. Was not being done.

“We didn’t have that moral leadership from within,” said Mr. Mehri, who helped found the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a group that pushes for diversity in the league’s executive and coaching ranks.

The league has been sued for discrimination, including by Black and Honduran-born coach Brian Flores, who in February 2022 accused teams of conducting sham interviews to pretend they were in compliance with the Rooney Rule. (Similar complaints have been made about diversity efforts in the corporate world.)

Yet in the 20 years since the Rooney Rule was enacted, only one NFL team has been punished for circumventing it.

By the time Mr. Meharry and the coalition met with the league in 2016, the NFL was considering how to strengthen the rule. Mr. Mehri proposed requiring teams to interview at least two people of color for each position, which was published in research that year Harvard Business Review The likelihood of hiring people from diverse backgrounds was seen to increase significantly.

During that meeting at NFL headquarters, the league’s human resources director at the time suggested taking the time to study the research before committing to it. Commissioner Roger Goodell intervened, saying, “Let’s do it.” However, even after Mr. Goodell pushed his officials, the mandate that two candidates of color be interviewed for each head coaching vacancy was not adopted for more than three years.

Since then, the league has expanded the rule to include coordinators — at the level below team presidents and head coaches — and women. Incentives have also been added to this. Teams that hire minority head coaches or general managers receive draft picks as compensation. In the league office, individual bonuses and performance reviews are tied to the execution of the department’s diversity, equity and inclusion plan.

In some areas the results are clear. Seven team presidents have come from underrepresented groups, including six people of color, and 10 general managers have been people of color (including Las Vegas Raiders interim GM Champ Kelly), both records. According to the NFL, overall representation of people of color and women on teams is 51 percent, up from 44 percent three years ago, including the number of coaches of color, which has increased from 35 percent to 43 percent.

“To have a level playing field in an organization, everyone has to be pulling in the same direction, not just the CEO but direct reports and middle management,” Mr. Mehri said. “This type of effort is so delicate and requires such a constant commitment that if you take your eye off the ball, you will drop the ball.”



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