Diversity in PR – Do We Need a Rooney Rule?

The Rooney Rule has clearly failed in the NFL. In a new article for CommPRO, Public Relations: Time for a Rooney Rule?, I make the case that we should not be quick to dismiss the idea. The first question we need to ask is: Why has the two-decade old rule not succeeded?

From the beginning, CommunicationsMatch™ has advocated for the inclusion of diverse firms into agency and professional searches. Questions around diversity, equity, and inclusion are also built into our Agency Select™ RFP tools.

But as with the hiring of employees (or coaches in the NFL), unless organizations apply these principles and actually hire diverse people or firms, real change won’t happen.

I highlight key takeaways from the Rooney Rule:

  • Rules can drive greater inclusion of diverse people into the hiring process
  • A rule itself is not enough to increase the hiring of diverse candidates
  • For rules to work there must be consequences if they are not adhered to
  • Those in power tend to hire those most like themselves
  • Change requires those making hiring decisions to change behaviors

I note: “As the NFL and the experience of our industry show, when presented with a range of candidates it is all too easy for leaders to choose people who look like or come from the same backgrounds as they do. If we do not change this dynamic, for all the rules we put in place, in another 20 years our industry will not have changed – just like the NFL.”  

Communications leaders need to avoid this trap. What we need to do is “seek out and value diversity as a superpower.”

The takeaway is that a Rooney Rule in PR can frame an intentional approach to hiring. But for it to be effective, companies need to hold themselves accountable, be willing to be held accountable, and be transparent by sharing data and progress.

In perhaps a jarring conclusion I note: “We need our industry ‘owners,’ in agencies, C-suites, corporate communications and marketing departments, to learn from the NFL’s failures, or risk becoming the story.”

Read the full article here


Simon Erskine Locke is founder & CEO of CommunicationsMatch™, and a regular contributor to 

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