What Can Associations Learn from the NFL’s Diversity Playbook?

An annual report by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports showed that the National Football League is making great strides with diverse hiring at top-level positions. But what can associations draw from it?

Associations looking to improve their game in terms of hiring practices that promote a diverse workforce might want to get some coaching from the National Football League.

For the fourth consecutive year, the NFL received an A grade for its racial hiring practices from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES). The institute, located at the University of Central Florida, gave the league a C+ for gender hiring, making its overall grade a B.

While the number of diverse head coaches dropped from eight to four from 2011 to the beginning of 2013, the league welcomed its first team president of color and first majority team-owner of color. The league saw an 11 percent increase in the total number of women and people of color at or above the vice president level.

“Diverse teams tend to work better and see things from different perspectives.”

Compare that with data showing that minorities constitute 25 percent or less of board members at most associations and that nearly 40 percent of associations have no minority board members at all.

Forget about grades for a minute though, because, according to career coach Cheryl Palmer, founder and president of Call to Career, the report itself—specifically, its focus on metrics—can offer some great lessons for associations. “Metrics let you know where you stand and what you need to actually work on,” she said. “Otherwise you just have a general idea of where you are, and your perception might not be that accurate.”

The TIDES “2013 Racial and Gender Report Card” for the NFL [PDF] also showed that a team’s overall effectiveness, on and off the field, was affected by the level of diversity within the organization.

“Being diverse helps to attract other people who might be your members or customers, and diverse teams tend to work better and see things from different perspectives,” Palmer said.

A diversity initiative has to be built into the strategic plan and the culture of an organization to be successful, she said, but building a pipeline of diverse candidates is just as critical. “It starts from college and goes all the way up—connecting with professional organizations and different types of networks that represents the diverse workforce that you’re looking for.”

Since NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was hired in 2006, the NFL has implemented various policies and procedures to emphasize diversity throughout the league, most notably the so-called Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for a vacant head coaching position. A similar policy in associations could be a double-edged sword, Palmer said.

“Something like that certainly could be effective, but it’s a matter of, in terms of implementation, making sure that it doesn’t end up having some sort of backlash,” she said. “It’s more about being intentional with the people you bring in and setting the expectation within your organization that this is what you value. And beyond that, it’s about retaining the right people and making sure that everybody is welcome in this environment.”

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, one of many minority NFL coaches hired after the implementation of the so-called "Rooney Rule" in 2003. (photo by Michael Rooney/via Wikimedia Commons)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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