The Rooney Rule Could Change Up The Tech Industry

by Greta Jochem

Recently a new mandate aimed at increasing diversity has swept the tech industry, with companies like Facebook and Pinterest adapting their own versions into their hiring practices. But what exactly is the Rooney Rule? According to Fortune magazine, the exact details vary based on company, but the core idea is the same: for each open position at the company, a minimum of one woman and one underrepresented minority must be considered for the job.

So why, then, is it called the "Rooney Rule"? The answer lies in the NFL, of all places. In 2003, Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney implemented a rule that for every coaching or general managing position, teams are required to interview at least one person of color for the position.

Recently, Obama has been backing the rule in the tech sector. On Aug. 4, the White House held "Demo Day," the first event of its kind to encourage diversity in entrepreneurship. According to a White House press release, "just 3 percent of America’s venture capital-backed startups are led by women, and only around 1 percent are led by African Americans. At present, only about 4 percent of U.S.-based venture capital investors are women." Start-ups pitched ideas to Obama, while companies like Google and Amazon announced plans to increase diversity.

Tech companies have been embracing the role in hopes to get more women and minorities involved. In June, Facebook implemented its own version of the Rooney Rule, though Facebook spokeswoman Genevieve Grdina gave few details to The Wall Street Journal, other than confirming the company's initiative. According to Bloomberg, Facebook last summer admitted it wasn't so diverse — of its technical workers, only 15 percent were women, and 91 percent of all employees were either white or Asian. Facebook is not alone. Other companies such as Pinterest, whose tech jobs are filled by just 2 percent African Americans and 1 percent Hispanics, have instituted similar policies.

But, will the rule work? Whether the rule was actually successful in staffing minorities depends on who you ask. In May, ESPN wrote, "From 1992-2002, a minority was chosen to fill only seven of the 92 head-coaching vacancies, or less than 10 percent. Since 2003, minorities have filled 17 of the 87 head coaching vacancies, or about 20 percent." But in 2012, of the eight open head coaching jobs, none were filled by someone of color.

TechCrunch has been positive about embracing the Rooney Rule in the technology sector, writing in July:

If the Rooney Rule was able to increase the NFL's number of minority hires from 6 percent to 22 percent, tech companies should give it a try as well. ... More tech companies should take the courageous, and business savvy step to implement a Rooney Rule. Diversity is not an issue tech companies can just punt to the next generation. It’s something we need to tackle now.

Some have expressed more skepticism. Fortune points out that it's a "step in the right direction," but that doesn't mean its going to be a cure-all solution. Intel's Chief Diversity Officer Roz Hudnell told Fortune, "Until we get to a point where minorities are a critical mass in our corporations, we have to keep working at it."

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