BET founder urges corporate America to adopt NFL’s Rooney Rule

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by Suzanne Gamboa
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP)—Now that the National Football League has a record number of head coaches who are Black and Hispanic, can Fortune 500 companies borrow from the league’s diversity playbook and see similar results among corporate executives?

Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, thinks so. He is urging corporate America to adopt a version of the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate when filling head coach and general manager positions.

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BOB JOHNSON

Currently, seven NFL coaches are Black and one is Hispanic. Five general managers are minorities. In 2003, when the rule was implemented, there were three African-American NFL head coaches.

Unlike the NFL rule, which is mandatory for teams, Johnson is asking companies to voluntarily adopt a version of the rule.

In Johnson’s version, which he calls the RLJ Rule, companies would include at least two African-Americans among interviewees for positions of vice president and above and interview at least two Black firms when searching for vendor and supplier services contractors.

He spelled out the proposal in letters sent to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the Business Council, the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce, the Executive Leadership Council, and the Congressional Black Caucus, among others, as well as several civil rights and minority organizations.

The Chamber of Commerce did not respond to a request from the AP for comment on the proposal.

Johnson said although many companies have diversity programs and want more diverse workforces, higher-level positions often are filled through “an informal kind of friendship system.” His proposal gives African-Americans the chance to compete for the position they may not have had because they lack the connection to the person doing the hiring, he said.

“As this country becomes more diversified and more and more minorities are going to be seeking jobs and be consumers, there’s every reason to adopt this voluntary enhanced version” of the Rooney Rule, Johnson said.

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