Why the Rooney Rule Isn't Enough

by Julie Graber | on 14 Oct 2019

NYC’s comptroller wants big businesses to commit to the Rooney Rule for board and CEO searches. But research shows that a single diverse candidate on a slate has little hope of being successful. It takes two, researchers tell us - two women or two minorities - to disrupt the bias about who will be the right candidate for the job and open up opportunities for women and minorities to advance.

Scott Springer, NYC comptroller, has sent letters to 56 majors companies (including AT&T, Boeing, Walmart and the Disney Co.) asking them to adopt a policy that commits them to considering at least one diverse candidate (woman or person of color) every time they have a board or CEO opening. The policy is fashioned after the Rooney Rule in the NFL that requires all teams to interview at least one person of color for head coaching positions (note for the NFL that gender isn’t included).

Unfortunately, what the research shows us is that when the bar is set at one, the likelihood that the diverse candidate will be the final choice in basically 0%. In their Harvard Business Review article, If There’s Only One Woman in Your Candidate Pool, There’s Statistically No Chance She’ll Be Hired, researchers tested the Rooney Rule theory and discovered under most circumstances (the NFL not withstanding), slates with a single diverse candidate (woman or person of color) rarely (never) resulted in a diverse candidate being hired.

It Takes Two

What the researchers did find, in both their experimentation and in their examination of hiring records, was that just two women or two people of color among the finalists was enough to disrupt the idea that a white male was the status quo. In these cases, the likelihood that a diverse candidate would be hired by significant amounts:

  • the odds of hiring a woman were 79 times greater if there were at least two women among the finalists;

  • The odds of hiring a minority were 194 times higher if there were at least two minorities among the finalists.

And to those who would argue that this smacks of affirmative action, the researchers had this to say:

"This argument implies that there are fewer qualified women or nonwhite candidates than white male candidates. However, nonwhite employees and women outnumber white men in the U.S. workplace by a margin greater than two to one."

In other words, it’s any slate of all white men or white men with one diverse candidate that smacks of preferential treatment. (As I’ve discussed before - there’s only one demographic group whose representation increases as they climb the corporate ladder: white men. Advancing to the C-Suite: the Most Damning Number)

This isn’t about special treatment. This is about providing the opportunity for women and minorities to be given the same consideration as their white male counterparts. It’s about interrupting the systemic bias that takes women and minorities out of the running - because they don’t receive as much sponsorship, because they don’t ask, and a host of other reasons, built on male norms, that give white men the edge.

Maybe we could call it the Rooney Rule 2.0.

Tags:  Systemic Bias