Despite many Bostonian’s claims, this week’s explosive NFL news was not Tom Brady retiring and snubbing his hometown team of 20 years in the process. The even bigger story is about Brian Flores, the former head coach of the Miami Dolphins who sued the NFL alleging racist hiring practices and potentially tanking his career as a result. The reason it’s bigger news is not that it tells us that the NFL has a huge problem with racism. We all knew that thanks to Colin Kaepernick. Or even that it’s rife with corruption --whether deflategate or spygate-- that’s been a bit obvious. What the lawsuit does is shine a light on something that happens all over in hiring - not just at the NFL. Hiring managers often go through the motions of inclusion and diversity, but don’t ultimately hire diverse candidates. In this case, Flores just got accidental confirmation of what many diverse candidates suspect happens regularly.
Good Intentions Don’t Necessarily Change Attitudes and Behaviors
I wish I could say that I haven’t seen this before, but I have. At a former employer, performance evaluations and therefore, compensation, included whether you had diverse hiring slates for open positions. It was a well-intentioned effort to improve diversity and I do think it changed some recruiting practices for the better. However the comments that I often overheard from my peers made it clear that the requirement was often seen as a burden. More insidiously, that somehow the requirement would lead to the best candidate not getting the job. I even saw times where the hiring manager did what The New York Giants evidently did. They knew who they wanted to hire, but went through sham interviews to have a diverse slate, and then made the hire they wanted.
Use the Status Quo to Change the Status Quo
Pushing for diverse slates does require more effort, particularly for roles that have a shortage of candidates of a certain gender or race. However, making diverse hires requires hiring managers to face our own unconscious biases. People generally prefer the status quo of what they are used to and avoid change. What most hiring managers don’t realize is that the actual composition of their hiring slate dramatically affects the outcome. In research conducted by Harvard, if a slate of candidates had three men and one woman, the woman had statistically no chance of being hired. If the slate had two women and two men, she had a 50% chance of being hired. If it was 3 women and 1 man, it rose to a 67% chance of being hired. The status quo of the pool actually affected the ultimate outcome. As the researchers stated, “our results suggest that we can use bias in favor of the status quo to actually change the status quo.”
Leaning into Diversity Drives Business Outcomes
Ironically, the Rooney Rule at the NFL showed that having diverse slates did change outcomes (at least at levels lower than head coach). As a result, it went on to be popularized elsewhere. But that doesn’t tackle the issue of whether people truly embrace the process or just go through the motions. It doesn’t address whether diverse hires thrive in your organization. Until an organization really leans into the fact that diverse teams are the most successful teams, and that inclusion is ultimately about day to day behaviors, you may end up with balanced hiring practices, but not ultimately build a diverse organization. As leaders, it is our job to make sure that our organization wins, and getting all aspects of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives right is part of that winning formula.