ON FEBRUARY 1—the first day of Black History month— the National Football League was hit with bombshell lawsuit pertaining to discriminatory hiring practices. Former head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Brian Flores, filed the complaint against the NFL and all its member teams claiming they systematically discriminate against Black coaches during the interview process. In a text conversation with longstanding NFL coach Bill Belichick, Flores discovered that the New York Giants had already decided on their next head coach prior to their scheduled interview with Flores. While the selection of a white head coach is not inherently discriminatory, the NFL has an interviewing policy that requires teams to interview diverse candidates for coaching vacancies. More specifically, every team is required to interview “at least two external minority candidates for open head coach positions.” The Rooney Rule, NFL Football Operations (Feb. 4, 2022) com/inside-football-ops/diversity-inclusion/the-rooney-rule/.

The Rooney Rule was created in 2003 following the firing of two Black coaches. Dan Rooney, the rule’s namesake, was the former chairman of the NFL’s Diversity Committee and the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, which ironically, is currently the only team to have a Black head coach.

This case, regardless of outcome, epitomizes how businesses miss the boat on workforce diversity. Too often, well-intentioned corporate guidelines, Board of Directors initiatives, and hiring practices use quotas to effect surface level change. However, these don’t create a culture that champions diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Rooney Rule, for example, is an interview requirement that exposes hiring committees to more diverse candidates, but it has not resulted in a more robust or diverse workforce: the NFL has only one Black head coach and just two other minority coaches. Rather than establish quotas to create an artificially diverse workforce, consider the following for your practice or organization:

    1. Do our policies demand equality of opportunity or incentivize inclusivity?
    2. How would a more diverse and robust workforce unlock untapped capabilities?
    3. Is our practice or business reflective of our mission?

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are not one-size-fits-all topics. They are critical focus areas that will require continual investment as your organization evolves.

1 John Keblish is a First Year Evening Student at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey Law School. MSBA welcomes contributions from law students.