In the past year, the National Football League has been praised for making strides towards gender equality. The hiring of Sarah Thomas as the league’s first female official, followed by Jen Welter as the league’s first female coach opened the door for the Buffalo Bills recent historic hiring of Kathryn Smith, the league’s first full-time female coach. While these groundbreaking hires are truly noteworthy, unfortunately, they’ve had little impact on the testosterone-laden hallways of the NFL’s front office.
This week at the first ever NFL Women’s Summit, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the league will apply the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview one minority candidate for each open head coaching and general manager position, to women. In an effort to better diversify among the executive ranks, the Rooney Rule for women will require hiring managers to interview at least one woman for every vacant executive position. Currently, 30% of the NFL’s 330 employees are women, and 25% of its 120 executives are women. While these numbers are not shabby by any means, Commissioner Goodell recognizes more can be done to achieve greater gender equality. And, rightfully so. But is it enough?
While I’m all for employing policies that seek to level the playing field between men and women, I’m not heralding the Rooney Rule for women a game changer like others have publicly done, just yet.
This is not the year of 1986. The age of the female baby boomer, a time in which the female labor force unexpectedly soared due to women boldly choosing career and family, is long gone. Power suits with sneakers, chunky socks and stockings be damned. Women of today are raising children, ruling boardrooms, pursuing higher education, and also running for president of the United States – all quite stylishly I might add.
For decades, women have heroically fought against gender stereotypes demanding to have their relevant experiences and qualifications equally valued as their male counterparts. While equal pay remains an insurmountable hurdle for many employers, the NFL’s Rooney Rule for women proves that equal employment opportunity is a more dire issue that should have been addressed long ago.
While well intentioned, I can’t overcome the general idea of the Rooney Rule for women, which is that capable women are merely attaining interview opportunities because it’s mandated by the Commissioner. This highly offensive approach suggests women’s general intelligence, years of education and valuable work experience, in comparison to men, are insufficient and worthless. That women aren’t good enough on their own. That the estrogen pool of talent is so shallow, it’s necessary to employ extreme measures, such as creating a separate application process, to identify qualified candidates.
Per ESPN, this separatist approach was ironically explained by NFL senior VP and CIO, Michelle McKenna-Doyle. She had this to say, “…this week the NFL launched a website where interested candidates can create profiles for jobs. That way, even if a position isn’t currently available, the NFL will have a list of women and minority candidates when jobs do become available.”
Mmmm…where have we heard this before? Oh yes, in 2012 when then presidential candidate Mitt Romney dropped his now infamous, “binders full of women” comment. Upon responding to a debate question with regard to pay equity, Romney remarked, “I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks?’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.”
Four years ago, Romney’s tone deaf “binders full of women” quote set the internet ablaze because it demonstrated how pathetically out of touch he was with the women’s movement. And here we are today, reliving the same horror through Goodell’s Rooney Rule for women policy.
At the root of the NFL’s discrimination problem lies a greater matter. The league employs leaders who share chauvinistic views of women. The NFL’s good ol’ boys’ club culture is such a space that women are widely excluded and marginalized; and has been for more than half of a century. Building a separate website and putting the onus on women to apply will change nothing if those in power continue to choose to reject women in their spaces. If the root cause of the issue continues to bloom, the Rooney Rule for women will suffer a similar fate as its predecessor – no guarantee they’ll be hired or assured any job security. Women, like many minority coaches, will be interviewed for positions solely to comply with the rule, and lack a genuine chance at landing the job. A recent New York Times article highlighted the pitfalls of this hiring practice.
This week, the greater San Francisco area has been overtaken with Super Bowl 50 commemorative signage and experiences. It’s the biggest party in town – and you’re lucky if you can snag a ticket. And yet, the biggest business takeaway from a week of festivities is: women are finally invited to the party but entry isn’t guaranteed.