Rooney Rule And Discrimination

Rooney Rule And Discrimination

“Reading Visty Banaji’s article?” Lulu asked me as he looked at my laptop screen. He was referring to Mr Banaji’s ‘There is an Elephant in the Room- And the Blind Men of Indostan Can’t See it’.

“What a coincidence Lulu, newspapers carried the story saying Prime Minister Modi is considering reservations in the private sector ‘PMO holds its first meeting on affirmative action in private sectorand we get Mr. Banaji’s article. More to this, Lulu, I have in hand Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race.’

“Wow! There must be a message in the synchronicity. Inclusion, Diversity and Discrimination issues requires a fresh look.”

“Oh yes, now that the euphoria of LGBTQ is dying down, we must focus on these subjects comprehensively.” I removed my specs and kept aside.

“The title is very explosive. ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race.’ What is she saying?”

“She writes ‘There are swathes of evidence to suggest that your life chances are obstructed and slowed down if you are born black in Britain.’ In the book, one interesting point which she mentioned was the ‘Rooney Rule.’”

“What’s that?”

“Simple. It is the principle is named after the National Football League’s diversity committee chairman, Dan Rooney. It requires all franchises in the league to interview at least one black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) candidate for every head coach or senior vacancy.”


“The overall percentage of African-American coaches had jumped to 22%, up from 6% prior to the Rooney Rule. Isn’t that interesting? Not law on reservation. Nothing requiring franchisees to do compulsorily except interviewing one BAME candidate for every senior vacancy. I wonder what made the rule work.”

“I can guess it. People must have seen somebody among BAME who can do the job well. Perhaps more competent than ‘non-BAME’ candidates. It may not be a regular occurrence but sufficient enough to hold mirror to the selectors about their ‘unconscious biases.’”

“Unconscious biases! Wow! Does it affect so much?”

“Ask any HR manager. Unconscious bias can influence recruitment and selection decisions. It affects gender and ethnicity. I am told that research supports this finding.”

“Hmmm…. Seems logical. But what makes Roony’s rule work?”

“When it worked, the selectors must have been confronted with their own unconscious bias. They are typically unaware that they hold biases against minority group.”

“Has it worked?”

“Yes. But those who wanted to subvert it, also did it.”

“There will always be lawbreakers. What I liked about Rooney Rule is that it does not cast any burden on the interviewers. It makes a demand of interview, but also permits final selection of your choice. In a way, it places responsibility to act conscientiously. This also can be a factor.”

“May be. When you make anything mandatory, people comply for name sake. Tokenism as they call it.”

“Tokenism can be practised in any system. In final analysis, there is no substitute to wilfully implementing processes. In letter and spirit, as they say. What you do and how you do – both are important.”

“Reni Eddo-Lodge makes a bigger allegation. She says, and she has argued the case so well in her book, that there is something ‘structural’ about the discriminations. She is arguing about racial discriminations, but we can see the parallel to our situation.”

“What does she say?”

“She says “‘structural racism’ is never a case of innocent and pure, persecuted people of colour versus white people intent on evil and malice. Rather it is about how Britain’s relationship with race infects and distorts equal opportunity. Do you see a parallel here?”

“Yes, it is obvious. Unless we raise awareness, unless people see from the eyes of the affected, nothing will be achieved. Prime Minister Modi can make law, constitution can be amended, but nothing will be achieved unless people, and those in power, feel the problem. Perhaps that’s where Rooney Rule works.”

“Our great leader, Mahatma Gandhi, was thrown out of a railway compartment in South Africa. Every Indian knows the story. What’s the lesson from that experience? Has it been erased from public memory? What say you?”

Vivek S Patwardhan