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HR Glossary | What is the Rooney Rule?

Rooney Rule

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What is the Rooney Rule?

Originally implemented by the National Football League (NFL) and named for the late Dan Rooney, former Pittsburgh Steelers Chairman, the Rooney Rule was an effort to boost opportunities for minorities to land head coaching positions in the NFL. The rule created requirements for interviewing at least one diverse candidate for open head coaching positions.

Rooney had started with the NFL as director of personnel, moving into the ownership role in 2002. He had a commitment to affirmative action and, through his actions, was able to make a measurable impact.

The impact of the Rooney Rule

Adopted in 2003, the Rooney Rule had a direct impact on the number of minority head coaches in the NFL, which rose from 6% to 22% in 2006. In 2009 the rule was expanded to also apply to other positions. The rule was again expanded in 2020 to require that two minority candidates be considered for head coach positions when they become available, and that at least one minority candidate must be interviewed for open coordinator positions.

Other companies took note and began focusing their own efforts on recruiting and hiring minorities for leadership positions.

Still Looking for Real Change

President Barack Obama is one example of high-level support for the Rooney Rule outside of the NFL. In 2015 he asked other organizations to focus on boosting diversity, announcing a number of commitments from companies, cities, states and other organizations to the effort in August 2015.   

Still, despite media attention and some action by the NFL and other organizations, the reality of diversity in most organizations still falls far short of expectations. The Black Lives Matter movement and racial unrest around the country have placed a renewed focus on the need for more concerted efforts to increase diversity in hiring and other employee decisions. Organizations have good intentions by and large, but need to focus on achieving measurable goals strategically. Here we offer three steps to help your organization get started along a pathway that will yield the results you’re looking for.

About the author: Linda Pophal

Linda Pophal, MA, PCM, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is the founder and owner of Strategic Communications, LLC, and a marketing and communication strategist with expertise in HR and employee relations. With a background as a business journalist, her writing has appeared in the HR Daily Advisor, Human Resource Executive, and SHRM. She is a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire.

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