By Elise Campbell-Bates

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the global protests led by the Black Lives Matter movement last year, organisations have been falling over themselves to make public pledges of their commitments to antiracism, to recognising their biases, and to dismantling internal systems and traditions that create barriers to inclusion for underrepresented groups in the workplace.

The world is now watching, waiting, and scrutinising to see whether those commitments are followed through with action, just as so many watched in anticipation for the verdict in the recent Derek Chauvin trial. Would the long arm of justice for once meet its obligations when it came to one of its own?

We made commitments of our own in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. 12 months on we are pleased to have followed through on a number of these, whilst others continue to be an active work in progress. One key action we have taken in recent months as part of a comprehensive overhaul of our recruitment and selection policy, is the adoption of the Rooney Rule for all leadership-level recruitment. This is a bold step and requires us to interview at least one ethnic minority candidate and one WIN (woman/intersex/non-binary) candidate for all Partner, Director, and Head of Service roles.

Origins of the Rooney Rule

The Rooney Rule was established in 2002; named after Dan Rooney, a former owner of the National Football League (NFL) team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rooney was a chairman of the league’s diversity committee and the rule was created following the firing of two black NFL head coaches. Studies followed which proved black head coaches were less likely to be hired and more likely to be fired than their white colleagues, even when winning a higher percentage of games. NFL teams are made up of more than 70% black players and with little representation at the leadership level, the Rooney Rule was designed to increase black representation in head coaching and senior operations positions to more accurately reflect the players those roles served.

The rule mandated that at least one meaningful interview of a candidate from a minority ethnic background be conducted for any head coach role. This was later expanded to general manager roles and recently expanded again to include women as another underrepresented group who should be interviewed.

Was it successful? A cautionary tale

The introduction of the Rooney Rule started off as a marked success, increasing representation of black head coaches from 6% to 22%. However, it would be naïve to believe that one initiative alone could overcome inequalities built on historical, cultural, and institutional racism. As of last year, there were only four minority coaches out of 31 teams. Before long, the NFL itself saw its leaders performing “sham interviews with a preordained hire waiting in the wings, safe in the knowledge that a bad-faith search is practically impossible to prove”. In short, those responsible for doing the hiring did not always change their approach, but simply jumped through new hoops in bad faith, always intent on hiring the person they had originally favoured before the interviews had even happened.

What does this tell us? For our diversity initiatives to succeed, we must be individually and collectively committed to the new, inclusive ways of working. We must engage meaningfully with the Rooney Rule which is, when all is said and done, simply designed to ensure we recruit the best candidates, from the widest possible pool, via a fair and competitive process.

A starting point

Adopting the Rooney Rule is just one method we have introduced in recent months aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion at Cundall.  But no amount of bold initiatives can bring about diversity, inclusion, or equality without the concerted and widespread engagement of our leadership team. This engagement is even more critical given that a homogenous leadership group lacking in minority representation weakens the likelihood of achieving meaningful change to diversity and inclusion – a vicious cycle scenario.

The challenge lies in us all taking issues of inequality and underrepresentation seriously. We need to be asking ourselves whether we have done enough to encourage positive change – particularly those of us with the most power to effect such change. Finding the diverse talent for leadership roles will of course not be without its challenges, but I’m willing to forgo traditions and try something new. Are you?

Find out about how this fits into Cundall’s Diversity and Inclusion policy by clicking here.

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Elise Campbell-Bates, Recruitment


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