Rooney Rules for Research

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Striving to Build a More Diverse and Inclusive
Research Agency… and Industry

With the increased awareness of inequity in most aspects of our social and professional lives, diversity and inclusion are on many people’s minds in the marketing and insights industry. At Behaviorally, we are involved in some deep self-evaluation in our own company that we thought we might share, in the hope that it might advance the way for the future of diversity and inclusion in our industry.

As avid football fans, our own journey towards diversity and inclusion might be illuminated by examining the Rooney Rule.

For those of you not familiar with the Rooney Rule, its creation was symbolic of a watershed moment for diversity in sports. Named after Dan Rooney, the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and former chairman of the US National Football League’s diversity committee, it is a commitment by the NFL, established as policy in 2003, that requires league teams to interview ethnic minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs.

Some may question whether such a rule is necessary or argue that it goes too far. But the fact of the matter is that in a league where roughly 60% of players are black, fewer than 10% of head coaches were black.  The thinking behind the rule is that while there were ample qualified black head coach candidates, they weren’t being given the same opportunity to compete for head coaching jobs as their white counterparts – hence the creation of the Rooney Rule.

The Rooney Rule has become a model for many organizations making a very public commitment to DO SOMETHING about diversity and inclusion. Even the English Football League (a slightly different sport!) adopted their own version of the Rooney Rule during the 2016-2017 season!

Is the Rooney Rule perfect? No. And evidence suggests that sport in general still has a long way to go regarding race as well as gender. But diversity and inclusion must start somewhere. And for American football? It was the Rooney Rule.

At Behaviorally, we have always prided ourselves as being on the right side of the diversity, equity, and inclusion discussion. Philosophically, we saw ourselves aligned with a righteous world view.

If the events of this year have taught us anything, it was that as a company, we needed to be humble, take stock, ask ourselves some hard questions, do a proper audit and self-examination of our processes (in our recruiting, hiring, and employee development programs as well as our research practices), and endeavor to create our own set of Rooney Rules.

We want this effort to yield some critical diagnostics, creative thinking, step-change actions – and ultimately, results.

What have we done to start paving the way? First of all, we put out a call to anyone in the company to join an active task force, which we have named the Diversity and Inclusivity Committee, because issues around diversity and inclusion are not just a senior management challenge.

We wanted the metric we give ourselves, and the steps we embrace to improving it, to come from a bottom-up, not a top-down, initiative.

One of the flaws of the Rooney Rule is that it attempts to remove bias and elicit behavioral change through a mandate (allowing for loopholes). To drive longstanding cultural change, we believe that we need to tap into the entire organization, create dialog and activate lasting change at a grassroots level. As behavioral scientists, we understand that this is the most effective way to change behavior and serve as an antidote to unconscious biases and exclusion. By building awareness rather than simple dictates and mandates, we are applying our own D&I Rooney Rule goals in a way that fuses with the company DNA and simply becomes the way we do business. And this starts with every member of the task force having an equal voice.

Like good researchers, the D&I Committee is taking stock, building assessments, gathering data and resources to support ongoing awareness and organizational sensitivity, and formulating plans for meaningful action and outreach. We are looking internally, as well as externally, at the ways we recruit and develop staff, support the communities in which we do business, and embed D&I principles in the way we design and conduct research, treat respondents and support our clients.

This is not a “one and done” activity. It will take ongoing commitment, candor, authenticity, and most importantly, behavioral change. But that is something Behaviorally and others in the industry should be good at!  Above all, the Diversity and Inclusivity Committee has the full support of senior leadership, who see this as imperative to building our business and fulfilling our brand promise.

Have we completed our own Rooney Rules yet? No, they are still in their early days. But we have a plan in place and commitment to help everybody in the company to feel empowered; and ensure that gender, race, sexuality, religion, or disability will never be a barrier to employee success at Behaviorally. It will be an ongoing process we feel will change our company culturally, making us more diverse and inclusive to better reflect the world around us, and help us serve our clients more effectively.

So, why are we sharing this? To pat ourselves on the back? Far from it. We know that we are at the start of this journey, and we have a long way to go.  But as part of an industry that could also stand to develop some Rooney Rules broadly, maybe our own story will inspire a call-to-action to join us in these efforts across the community.

Here are glimmers of progress: When you last attended an insights industry conference (seems so long ago now) or perused the panel of speakers in a virtual event, you might have noticed a change. It is subtle and by no means are we done, but speakers are more diverse, and topics are starting to address the challenging realities that brands also face when engaging the rich diversity of their consumer universe. We are proud to be part of the initiative to truly inject diversity and inclusion and our collective Rooney Rules into every aspect of our industry.

Sam Albert is the Chief Digital Officer and head of the D&I Task Force of Behaviorally (formerly PRS).  He brings over 20 years of experience in the CPG research industry to the responsibility of ensuring that the Company is efficiently organized and operating to achieve the overall business objectives optimally, in a manner consistent with the company vision.
Connect with Sam on LinkedIn here.

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