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For Diversity, Facebook Adopts Rooney Rule -- So Should Law Firms

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 22, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Tech companies have been criticized for their lack of diversity for years. Consider the fact that 94 percent of Facebook's technical employees are white or Asian; the median employee age at Google is allegedly 29 years old; and no large social networking company has more than 2 percent of black employees. With all the criticism tech gets, you might think it's the least diverse industry around, but you'd be wrong. That award goes to lawyers.

Facebook has reportedly taken up the Rooney Rule to help increase diversity in its workforce. That Rule, named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, requires that minority candidates be interviewed for top positions. It's that simple -- and it's been credited with drastically increasing the amount of minority coaches in the NFL. Will the Rooney Rule work for Facebook? Could it work for your firm?

Just One Candidate

The Rooney Rule began after the NFL was criticized for failing to hire qualified minority leadership. Studies showed that minority coaches, already a rarity in the NFL, were less likely to be hired and more likely to be fired than less qualified white candidates.

The Rooney Rule sought to counteract this pervasive bias by simply increasing hiring teams' exposure to qualified minority candidates: for every head coach position, at least one minority applicant must be interviewed. The Rule is credited with doubling the amount of minority coaches in a decade.

Facebook is currently implementing the Rooney Rule, hoping that it's more than a Hail Mary strategy for improving diversity. The social networking behemoth is currently implementing the rule in just a few departments, according to Bloomberg. There's no word if those departments include its highly respected and highly homogenous engineering teams.

Rooney Rule for Lawyers

Lawyers could similarly benefit from taking extra steps to achieve workplace diversity. The legal profession is even more homogenous than tech. Eighty-eight percent of lawyers are white, according to ABA statistics, beating out engineers by six percent and physicians by 16 percent. Minority students make up 20 percent of law students but can barely be found among the ranks of major law firm lawyers, according to Deborah Rhode, a Stanford Law professor.

This is despite the fact that almost all lawyers say they want more diversity. According to Rhode, who surveyed 100 firms and GCs, most managing partners blamed the "lack of candidates in the pool" for the underrepresentation of minorities.

Research shows that implicit biases might be responsible for keeping minority candidates from being interviewed or even presumed competent. Implementing the Rooney Rule in legal hiring is one simple way to counteract that. While interviewing minority candidates doesn't guarantee any particular result, the NFL's experience shows that simply getting minorities into the room can help improve an employer's diversity. That's certainly something to click "like" for.

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