Going Beyond the Rooney Rule

Posted 7/21/2022 in Learn by Candidate Team


Candidate’s DE&I advisors share their thoughts about company hiring requirements for including a certain number of people from historically underrepresented groups* in candidate pools. They offered three distinct points to keep in mind, along with key takeaways to implement to ensure inclusivity and representation throughout the hiring funnel. The below points come courtesy of the expertise of Lionel Lee and Aparna Rae.   
Lionel Lee has an extensive career in tech recruiting, serves as an advisor to several startups, and previously worked as a DE&I Officer at Zillow Group. He is currently the Director of DEI Recruiting at Google. Aparna Rae is a multi-startup founder, who began her career as a 4th Grade teacher in Chicago. She currently leads Moving Beyond, where she supports organizations in their adoption of data-informed practices to support DEI efforts. 

1. Change how the Rooney Rule is implemented

Now widely used as an industry hiring practice, the Rooney Rule was originally designed with a goal of increasing the number of people from historically underrepresented groups in leadership positions in the NFL – noting that while a large majority of players are Black, leadership and coaching positions remained predominantly White. The rule stipulates a certain percent of candidates from underrepresented gender and/or race and ethnic groups be included at the interview loop stage of the hiring process with the intention of increasing representation in leadership roles. “The Rooney Rule too often is used for optics without any structural changes within the organization,” says Aparna Rae, “Recently, we’ve seen this play out publically with the NY Giants and Wells Fargo– where organizations interviewed non-White candidates with no intention to hire them.” 

Experts advise that to see talent from underrepresented groups effectively progress through to receiving an offer, first and foremost, requirements for representation must be upheld during the sourcing and screening stages. Another consideration in effectively hiring underrepresented groups is the role a hiring manager plays in the process, and the urgency to fill certain roles.

“Hiring managers within organizations have final say,” says Lionel Lee. “Because there are not as many candidates that are representative, oftentimes the candidate slate will be pushed through by the hiring manager because they need to fill that position. There is so much beyond recruiters’ control at the end of the [hiring] funnel.” In order to prioritize hiring people from underrepresented groups, organizations need to be intentional. 

Rae adds that frameworks like the Rooney Rule, when implemented with an eye for results and measurable change, can be helpful for putting goals into practice. Being specific in examining who has been excluded and why is the only way to have honest conversations that will lead to change.

Regardless of approach, one thing holds true– any iteration of the Rooney rule cannot be topical in practice. “Follow the spirit of the rule, [don’t push] historically underrepresented groups through for optics,” Rae says.

Takeaway: There are no blanket best practices related to the Rooney Rule. The idea of “best practices” only exists when there is data to support that they are actually working. Be unwavering in disassembling the approaches that have proven ineffective and dedicated to prioritizing representation throughout the full hiring funnel.

2. Establish an honest and transparent system for reporting outcomes

Data is key when it comes to establishing inclusive hiring practices. In general, there is not solid people data widely available within most organizations.

“You have to know where you are at to get to where you want to be,” says Lee. The data has to be accurate and reflect progress towards stated goals. You have to have the courage to create audacious goals.” 

Lee adds that throughout his career, when he has asked for data to design new initiatives, there usually haven’t been any or fewer than he’d expect. The tech space is known for loving product data, however when it comes to increasing representation, it may be a bit harder to find people data. With a true commitment to data driven practices, progress is easier to measure, achieve and sustain. Organizations can easily identify gaps, augment with staffing and tools if needed, and double down on a strategy if it is producing results.

Rae notes demographic and qualification data at every stage of the hiring process is crucial to examining candidate trends throughout the funnel. It’s in this data where you can start to identify successful practices that should be repeated. “If your [organization] is fairly homogeneous, lay out the plan to bring the workforce in better alignment with regional or industry representation,” says Rae. Once your plan is in place, identify the checkpoints necessary to track your efforts. 

Takeaway:  Recruiters need data collection and visualization tools. They need to see demographic data at the top of the funnel, and see what is happening at every stage of the hiring process. This can be collected via optional self-ID from the candidate and affiliate identification by the organization.

3. Education, training and buy-in from the top down

Representation, requirements, and committing to data visibility can’t be achieved without authentic investment across the organization, particularly from managers and leadership. Leaders have to be committed to shifting who is hired, retained, and promoted. 

Rae questions if any of these practices would work without management training and buy-in. “Is it helpful if […] the senior leaders haven’t done the work? Then no, it’s obviously not going to work. I’d say [a practice like] blinding resumes doesn’t work if bias hasn’t been addressed across the organization.” Technology alone can’t fix structural and systemic issues of bias in an organization. 

Lee is certain that “leadership from the c-suite down has to really believe in the need for representation. They have to […] advocate for it and push for it within their organizations.” 

If you do not address bias, strategies to develop more inclusive practices will not work. To effect change in any real way, there must be education about the historical context of why inclusivity and representation matter and how we’ve gotten to this point.

Takeaway: For recruiting teams to champion and be real allies to historically excluded groups, there must be goals for everyone, including recruiters, recruiting managers, and hiring managers. These should be connected to a monetary incentive to help incentivize adherence.

A final note: every organization has a unique ecosystem. There’s no single set of best practices or a checklist that’s going to truly increase representation. Organizations need to prioritize data-informed practices, create a culture of transparency, build capacity for experimentation, and be led by individuals committed to workplace equity. 

*The definition of underrepresented or underrepresented minorities (URMs) requires nuance and an understanding of the demographic makeup of various industries. For instance, while South Asian men could be considered URMs in nonprofit or philanthropic organization, they would not be considered URMs in technology. As each organization thinks about diversifying their employee base and leadership, it’s important to define URM within the context of that organization, industry and region.