When rules and policies are not enough 

Ardena Bašić
March 24, 2022
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

C/O Yoohyun Park

Enforcing diversity is a step to promote equity, but a true belief in its importance goes a much longer way 

Rules and laws are meant to be imposing in order to keep society safe and avoid significant conflicts. However, they are often used as potential solutions to prevalent societal issues.  

One instance is the use of the Rooney Rule in the National Football League, meant to avoid discrimination in hiring coaches and other senior vacancies in the organization. This rule is reflective of many efforts to increase inclusivity for people of colour,  but ineffective in creating an internalized motivation for change.  

This rule should serve as a reminder that unless we truly believe and desire for the advancements we are making, any external forces will be futile. 

The Rooney rule was created in response to the struggles faced by minority coaches and professionals in landing senior rules within the NFL. Essentially, teams are now required to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and general manager jobs and interview women for any business front-office position that opens in the league.  

Although the number of minority coaches increased by 6% in the first year of conception, it is very volatile. For example, in 2018, there were 8 head coaches of colour. But, in 2019, there were only 4.  

What are the actual implications of this rule? Yes, minorities are more involved in the interviewing process. But teams are not required to take this rule any further.  

In other words, teams could just add someone of colour to their interview roster with no intention of hiring them. A rule does nothing to make change if the people following them are not committed to ensuring it leads to what it is meant to — in this case, increasing the number of minority professionals within the organization.  

This is a sports-related example of how people are the real drivers behind change in the NBA. Those of colour represent barely 3% of the NFL’s head coaches but make up approximately 43% of those in the NBA.  

This was achieved through being “aggressive” about creating an inclusive culture and focusing on relationships with the people involved. By working with those within the organization and creating an environment where diversity and inclusion principles were internalised, significant change was able to be made.  

Such rules have implications in other areas as well. Consider the job hiring process, wherein there are laws organizations must follow to avoid discriminatory practices.  

Yet, again, these only go so far and are highly subjective. Consider a manager deciding whether to hire a man or woman of the same qualifications. Although illegal and unethical, the manager could easily say that the woman was less of a ‘fit’ for the organization to cover up sexist prejudices.  

If one does not truly believe in the purpose and desired outcome of a rule or guideline, is it not actually effective. 

As in the case of the NBA, these shortfalls can be reconciled by focusing on people, alongside intangibles like culture and overall environment. For example, if a firm really believes in a diverse team where everyone is treated equitably and fairly, then just hiring practices will be natural as opposed to simply forced by law.  

Having people with these internalized values is important, but it must be further fostered by organizations’ cultures, missions and values. If the people do not align with the firm or vice versa, then there will just be further conflict hindering them from achieving any goal, let alone overall equity.  

Of course, internal motivation is not enough. It must be matched by tangible action as opposed to symbolic gestures.  

Firms are increasingly supporting workers of colour by leaving partners who have shown racist behaviour, contributing to Black Lives Matter movements and clearly communicating with their minority workers.  

Overall, rules act as limitations, constraints and restrictions on society. So how can we expect them to free society of racist and other discriminatory burdens? We should be focusing on the foundation of society — its people — and the environment in which we live to catalyze true change and foster an equitable, inclusive world.  

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