Facebook turns to NFL playbook to fix diversity problem

Facebook turns to NFL playbook to fix diversity problem

Facebook has begun considering at least one minority candidate for some open positions, testing its own version of the Rooney Rule that the National Football League used to increase the diversity of coaching staff.

The Rooney Rule requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate during searches for head coaches and general managers.

The rule has been adopted by other Silicon Valley companies to increase diversity because it applies to interviewing, not hiring, and so is not the same as using quotas to raise the number of women and minorities.

It’s one of several efforts being deployed at Facebook to address the shortage of women and underrepresented minorities at the giant social network where the staff is mostly white and Asian men.

Facebook spokeswoman Genevieve Grdina said the pilot program is being referred to as the “diverse slate approach,” but declined to comment on it.

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The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has led the pressure on technology companies to diversify their workforces and has suggested companies use the Rooney Rule, said it’s a “first step, not the final step.”

In 2003, when the rule was introduced, most NFL players were African American yet only 6% of head coaches were African American. The rule was named for Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who also was chairman of the league’s diversity committee. In three years, the percentage of African-American coaches in the NFL rose to 22%.

“The Rooney Rule will mandate that qualified candidates be considered for job openings and board seats. That’s a good thing,” Jackson said.

But he also called on Facebook to be “fully transparent when you issue your diversity data.”

“Our challenge to Amazon, Facebook, eBay and other companies: Are you hiring people of color, in both tech and non-tech categories? How many new hires have you made this past year? How many, and what percentage, of those new hires were people of color? Has your company set a goal, target and timetable by which to measure your progress or not?”

Facebook plans to release its workforce diversity statistics by the end of June, Grdina said.

At the company’s annual meeting last week, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said Facebook had made “slightly more progress” in recruiting women and underrepresented minorities but “we know we have a long way to go.”

oelle Emerson, founder and CEO of Paradigm, a strategy firm that consults with tech companies on diversity and inclusion, says it’s “exciting to see a high-profile company like Facebook talk about this approach.”

“By establishing a Rooney-type rule, companies can ensure that they at least consider candidates from underrepresented backgrounds for every role,” Emerson said.

But companies also have to tackle bias in the candidate selection process, Emerson cautioned.

“Many companies currently do consider candidates from underrepresented backgrounds; the problem is that very often those candidates don’t get hired,” she said. “Without addressing the unconscious biases that lead us to want to hire and work with people similar to ourselves, simply adding diverse candidates to the slate may not have a significant impact.”

Facebook has begun conducting unconscious-bias training for employees. It would not say what percentage of its workforce has received the training.


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