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Is the NFL's 'Rooney Rule' Improving Diversity?

football . / Credit: Dreamstime.com

Employers of all types can learn a thing or two from the world of sports.

In particular, new research has found that organizations must improve diversity from the ground-up and not the top-down. To prove this, researchers from the University of Iowa and Indiana University examined the role of the Rooney Rule in the hiring of NFL head coaches. The Rooney Rule, named after Pittsburgh Steelers' owner Dan Rooney, states that an NFL team with a head coaching vacancy must interview at least one minority candidate when looking for a head coach. 

Despite the establishment of the Rooney Rule in the early 2000s, just four of the 32 NFL teams currently employ minority head coaches. Those coaches include Leslie Frazier of the Minnesota Vikings, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals and Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers.

While the Rooney Rule may be well-intentioned, researchers say it is failing on several levels. The fatal flaw, however, is that it has not helped to cultivate candidates from lower ranks. In fact, at the start of the 2009 season, just 12 of a possible 67 NFL coordinators were minorities.     

"If the league introduced African-American coaches into the front of the pipeline instead of at the end, more of those coaches would have the experience teams are looking for and be more likely to be hired as head coaches," said John Solow, lead researcher and an economics professor at the University of Iowa's Tippe College of Business. 

"The results suggest that race is not an important factor in promotion decisions for head coaches," said Solow. “However, experience, age and performance as an offensive or defensive coordinator are significant factors for NFL teams. As expected, success as a coordinator was also an important factor."

The findings are not only applicable to NFL coaches, but much more so to all businesses looking to improve diversity.   Solow, who conducted the research with his son Benjamin and Todd Walker, an economics professor at Indiana University, says improving diversity among entry-level employees could be an important step in helping to fix diversity problems at the top of an organization.

Follow David Mielach on Twitter @D_M89 or BusinessNewsDaily @bndarticles. We're also on Facebook & Google+.