NFL’s Rooney rule could be good for business

(NNPA)—With overall unemployment now at 9.8 percent and the African-American unemployment rate tipping the scales at a whopping 15.4 percent, it would be a tempting but fatal mistake for corporate America to take its eye off the ball when it comes to increasing diversity within its leadership ranks. 

In fact, I suggest that business take a lesson from the way the NFL has used the “Rooney Rule” in recent years to improve its historically abysmal record of hiring African-American head coaches.



The Rooney rule, in place since 2003 and named for Pittsburgh Steelers owner and NFL diversity workforce committee chairman Dan Rooney, requires that any NFL team with a head coaching vacancy must interview at least one minority candidate for the job or face a fine.  I believe it’s time for corporate America to consider a similar approach to improve both quality and diversity in its CEO and upper management ranks.

Since the NFL’s adoption of the Rooney Rule for the 2003 season, the number of African-American head coaches has jumped from two in 2002 to six today.  Two Black head coaches—Tony Dungy and Mike Tomlin—have won Super Bowl championships.  And many of these coaches credit the Rooney rule for opening a long-shut door of opportunity.  It is also clear that for several of their teams the rule has had a positive effect on team performance. It has allowed highly qualified head coaching prospects who would never have had the opportunity, the chance to make their teams better.

The overall numbers are still low.  African-Americans comprise about 70 percent of NFL players, while the percentage of Black coaches now stands at about 20 percent.  But, the Rooney Rule has meant progress and it has been so well received by team owners that in June the NFL extended it to the hiring of General Managers and other high level front office positions.

Corporate America could well reap similar benefits by following the Rooney rule model.  Black Enterprise Magazine lists just nine African-American CEO’s in its 2009 listing of the 100 Most Powerful African Americans in Corporate America.

The magazine also publishes an annual list of the top 40 companies in America for workforce diversity. But, by any measure, Black CEO’s and other African-American top executives are still a rarity at most Fortune 500 companies.

(Marc Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.)


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