Could This One Rule Make You Rethink Workforce Diversity?

Danielle Beurteaux

Business people meeting in officeFacebook’s diversity report was recently released and the results are…could be better. While there were slight increases the numbers of women and minorities hired, the company has a long way to go.

Diversity in the workplace, particularly in tech, has become a seriously hot issue in the past year, and a polarizing one at that. Of course, tech isn’t the only industry with this problem.

There are certainly some dollars being thrown at the issue: Google has budgeted $150 million for diversity issues this year. On June 9th, Intel announced the initiation of its Intel Capital Diversity Fund, a $125 million pot that will be invested in women- and “underrepresented” minority-led businesses. This follows the January announcement of $300 million as part of its Diversity in Technology program. The National Institutes of Health is granting $31 million to 12 universities to train minority students in the sciences.

Viewing diversity through a different lens

For a long time, diversity was seen through a lens of equality and legal compliance. But now  examples and research show that workplace diversity brings real business benefits. For example, a Deloitte report shows that diversity can also bring a diverse thought process and POV, advantages when it comes to launching a product with a broad customer base.

Rethinking diversity training

There’s also research showing that most workplace diversity programs don’t really work. A University of Washington study found that simply having a diversity training program leads employees to think their company is equitable, even when the evidence shows otherwise. More research also points to problems with corporate diversity programs. But the problem is likely that these companies are thinking about the issue incorrectly and implementing training in an ineffective way.

Facebook and football rules

Facebook is trying to improve its numbers by connecting with black students, initiating bias training for existing employees, and using Facebook ads to market tech training programs to women. But one unique tactic it’s taking comes from a field that’s pretty low-tech—football.

The Rooney Rule is the NFL’s own diversity initiative, created in 2003 to address the lack of diversity in higher-ups at the NFL. Named after Pittsburgh Steelers’ owner and head of the NFL’s diversity program Dan Rooney, the Rooney Rule states that whenever a head coach or general manager position opens up, at least one minority candidate must be interviewed. After the rule was instituted, the number of African-American coaches increased in just three years from 6 to 22 percent. This rule, however, is not a panacea—it doesn’t mean minorities will actually be hired.

Google allows its employees to spend 20 percent of their time working on whatever they like, and now the company has extended that idea to its diversity initiative. Diversity Core gives Googlers the same chunk of time to work on projects that will increase diversity in the tech industry.

Global CPG corporation Kimberly-Clark ties diversity numbers to performance metrics and bonuses. It seems to be working: In 2013 women filled nearly 27 percent of executive positions.

In another initiative, the Technovation World Pitch competition had 400 teams of girls from 30 countries pitch their ideas to a panel of judges in San Francisco. The idea behind it is to encourage girls to stick with STEM through school into a career.

Most likely, lasting diversity solutions will come from a combination of many different efforts, from corporations to nonprofits, educators, and innovators. And it could take a while.

For more on best hiring practices, see 4 Ways to Take Advantage of the Talent Ecosystem.

Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.