Implementation of the “Rooney Rule” in Academic Medical Centers

The diversity of medical school students is increasing, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Diversity in senior leadership and faculty should follow that lead because these individuals serve as mentors to students as well as advocate a focus on health inequalities based on aspects of diversity. One tool that can assist with this diversification is the “Rooney Rule.”

In 2003, Dan Rooney, former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, encouraged the application of what became known as the Rooney Rule, which required that football head coach selections include candidates of color in the interview pool. As a result, the representation of coaches of color in NFL teams increased from 6 to 22 percent over a three-year period. In 2017, 25 percent of head coaches were of color, with seven African Americans and one Hispanic. 

England’s Football Association announced early this year they would adopt the Rooney Rule for hiring coaches and staff for youth to senior level teams.

Other organizations have also adopted the Rooney Rule, or a version of it.  

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center adopted the rule to improve the representation of women in senior level positions and achieved a 9 percent increase.

Pinterest, the online scrapbooking company, implemented the Rooney Rule in 2015 for executive level positions and doubled its prior representation. 

The University of Texas System implemented a policy requiring its institutions to include a candidate from an underrepresented group in the final round of interviews for all senior administrative positions.

In October of 2016, Penn State Health and Penn State College of Medicine, located in Hershey Pennsylvania, implemented the Rooney Rule for senior administrative roles, such as chief human resources officer and clinical and basic science chairs. 

The proposal to implement the Rule at Penn State Health and College of Medicine began with benchmarking other organizations that had implemented it and presenting the proposal to the senior leadership team.  Once approval was received, the protocol for implementing the Rule was developed, then shared with the board of trustees.

Prior to this, Penn State Health filled 11 senior leadership positions over a two-and-a-half-year period with a 27 percent representation of diverse hires.  Since implementation of the Rule, there have been five senior leadership hires and all are from underrepresented groups. As a result, Penn State Health’s senior leadership team’s diversity, from a combined racial/gender/veteran perspective, increased from 28 percent at the end of 2014 to 36 percent as of February 2018.  Because of that success, the Rooney Rule has also been applied to director level and above searches.

Lynette Chappell-Williams is chief diversity officer and associate dean for diversity and inclusion at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine. She is also a member of the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board. This article ran in our May 2018 issue.