The Real Reason We’re More Likely to Elect a Woman in 2020

Studies tell us there’s a huge difference between having just one versus multiple women competing for a job.

By Cyrus Mehri

Originally published in Politico

 

Cyrus Mehri, Esq., has developed innovative and effective diversity and inclusion tools across various industries — stemming from groundbreaking employment cases that benefit employers and workers. He has worked with major companies and leading organizations to develop board diversity and accountability strategies. Cyrus is the originator of the “Rooney Rule” diverse candidate slate requirements that have become best practices.

 

The contest for the presidency is like an elaborate job interview process with the American people. For decades, the interviewees have mostly been white men. This time, we’ll choose from the most diverse candidate pool in history.

With nearly two decades of experience helping organizations from Coca-Cola to the National Football League put together diverse candidate pools for their hiring processes, I can say this with confidence: In the 2020 Democratic primary, the playing field is substantially more level for diverse candidates than it has ever been—and that means we are more likely than ever to elect a woman or person of color as president.

 

You might ask: Isn’t this just because there are more women and people of color running than ever before?

It’s not that simple. My experience as a civil rights attorney addressing systemic employment discrimination shows there is a world of difference between processes in which only one diverse candidate is interviewed (the 2016 presidential elections, for example) and processes in which two or more diverse candidates are interviewed (the 2020 Democratic primary). A single diverse candidate faces an enormous headwind—and a tiny chance of being picked for the job in the end. In contrast, when interviewers take the time to interview multiple diverse candidates in a fair and competitive process, the dynamic shifts norms and expectations, and creates a situation in which a diverse candidate is much more likely to end up winning the position.

 

A 2016 study by Stefanie K. Johnson, David R. Hekman and Elsa T. Chan published in the Harvard Business Review revealed just that. Their research showed there is statistically zero chance of a woman being hired if she is the only woman in the finalist pool. But those odds go up dramatically when she is joined by a second female finalist. The same effect was seen when examining pools with more than one person of color. The difference was staggering: Companies were 79 times more likely to hire a woman and 194 times more likely to hire a person of color when the finalist pool included more than one woman or minority. This held true regardless of the number of finalists. (The researchers looked at pools ranging from three to 11 candidates, with an average size of four).

 

What’s going on? Companies are known to prefer the status quo, which in most cases is hiring white males. So, if only one diverse candidate ends up in an interview pool, companies will favor hiring a white man. But, as the authors of the study found, when multiple diverse candidates enter the field, the status quo actually changes, and company decisions do, too. The playing field starts to level out.

 

I saw the importance of a diverse interview pool in practice nearly two decades ago when I helped the NFL develop its Rooney Rule, which requires NFL clubs to interview at least one candidate of color for head coach and general manager openings. (I had first used the “diverse slate” concept in a lawsuit settlement against Coca-Cola for racial discrimination—at the time, we referred to it as a proposal for the company to engage in “fair competition.”) Fifteen years after the Rooney Rule’s 2002 enactment, 22 minority candidates were selected for head coach, compared with only four in the prior 15 years. Since 2007, 10 NFL Super Bowl teams have had a minority head coach or general manager, underscoring the nexus between diversity and success, and the credibility of a fair and inclusive process.

As proud as I am of those results, over the years, we noticed a potential flaw in the process: The only time a person of color got the job was either when that was the only person truly considered, or when the hiring team cast a wide net, ensuring there were multiple people of color in the finalist pool. That’s why, in 2017, we updated the Rooney Rule to include an expectation (not a formal rule) that decision-makers on NFL teams would interview more than one person of color.

 

Today, I’m working with another major company to adopt their version of the Rooney Rule. Under the company’s pilot program, when there was only one woman in the candidate pool, she was never selected, but when two or more women were in the candidate pool, women were frequently chosen. The “aha” moment of this pilot program finding has led this major company to interview at least two women and one person of color for competitive management openings.

 

Of course, presidential election “interview” processes aren’t exactly equivalent to corporate hiring. Business applicants for a job typically come to the table with similar qualifications, and get the same amount of face time with those doing the hiring. In a pool of electoral candidates, qualifications and experience vary widely. And we can’t, and don’t, expect all candidates to be given equal speaking time or media coverage. But elections, like corporations, are also plagued by the status quo, and single diverse candidates can face a daunting uphill battle. Multiple diverse candidates in politics can help break barriers in the same way they can in business.

 

In other words, it’s too much to ask one woman to break the glass ceiling. But collectively, the half dozen women running for the nation’s highest office can do it.

 

A poll by the ESPN’s Undefeated shows that approximately 70 percent of NFL fans—a good proxy for Americans in general, as these fans represent a remarkably broad cross section of America—“somewhat” or “strongly” support the Rooney Rule. There are good reasons for Americans to support a diverse 2020 field, too. For one, a fair fight increases the chances that the best and most impactful candidate will be selected in the end.

Research has also long shown that increasing diversity in company leadership leads to increased innovation and better returns for shareholders. This year, a candidate pool that is diverse in terms of race, gender and sexuality, as well as life and work experience and geography has already put forward a wide array of innovative policy proposals and new ideas. That’s no accident. The data from the past 20 years indicates that the process used in the 2020 primaries will result in a diverse national ticket and Democrats will have the opportunity to catapult the country forward in countless ways.

Making California’s New Gender Inclusion Law for Boards of Directors A Success

By Cyrus Mehri

Governor Brown and the California Legislature took a major step to advance the U.S. economy by requiring publicly traded companies based in California to have at least two female members on their boards of directors by 2021. The wisdom of this new law is beyond reproach.

As the former Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission — Mary Jo White — declared two years ago, “I have seen first-hand what the research is telling us — boards with diverse members function better and are correlated with better company performance. This is why investors have — and should have — an interest in diversity disclosure about board members and nominees.“

By expanding the gender diversity of their boards, California companies will have a competitive advantage over companies based elsewhere. Several studies have linked gender diversity and increased innovation. A key 2014 study by Credit Suisse found that women on boards improved business performance on key metrics such as stock performance and earnings.

Yet despite these unmistakable advantages, female membership on boards of directors remains stagnant. Throughout this decade approximately 2/3 of U.S. boards of directors have had either no female members or only one female member of the board. This is an irrational outcome.

Companies are acting against their interest in terms of stock performance, innovation and earnings, because too many companies simply don’t know how to achieve a gender diverse board — nor, for that matter, do they know how to achieve a racially diverse board.

Based on my first-hand experience working with organizations to address organization and board diversity through the Rooney Rule and other key reforms, I know that there is a road map for success.

California companies can take concrete steps today to meet and exceed the new state benchmarks for gender board diversity, first by starting to ensure criteria for board membership is flexible enough to cover all the skills and attributes that succeeds in a competitive global economy. Board members should collectively represent a broad range of skills, experience and perspectives, which will help cast a wider net. Companies should also consider expanding the size of its board of directors.

When there is a vacancy on the board of directors, it’s important to commit to interviewing in-person a diverse set of candidates that includes at least two women and one person of color for each vacancy. This process should be included in a well- thought out nominations policy and guidelines tailored for the company. As we learned through experience with the Rooney Rule, a diverse pool of highly qualified women and people of color isn’t enough to move the needle. It matters who gets in the room to meet with the final decisionmakers.

Work through affinity groups and community and industry partners and develop a Ready List of potential board candidates who can strengthen a board of directors by bringing diverse life and work experiences and valuable perspectives. This includes going beyond the C-suite and considering experienced and talented leaders in the non-profit, public and education sectors. It also includes considering younger individuals earlier in the careers.

Companies need to also make sure that board nominating and governance committees are fully trained on interviewing a diverse slate of candidates and carrying out the policies, mission and goals for building equity and inclusion across the organization.

Finally, establish an effective communications strategy for rolling out a commitment to seriously interview and consider diverse candidates for the board of directors. This creates public accountability and make it easier to attract great candidates who bring new perspectives and experiences.

This road map for success is achievable right now. There are existing resources to draw on. There is no reason to wait until 2021 to advance innovation and earnings through the power of diversity.

Originally posted on Medium.

Can “Inclusion Waivers” Create More Equal Opportunity in Hollywood?

By Cyrus Mehri & Pamela Coukos

Originally Posted on the Working IDEAL Medium Page.

Last night, when Frances McDormand accepted her Oscar, she brought a new phrase to our workplace equality lexicon — calling on the industry to adopt “Inclusion Riders.” Based on an idea from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, an Inclusion Rider sets goals for hiring more members of underrepresented groups on film productions. As Dr. Stacy Smith explained in a 2014 article, an inclusion rider is a benchmark for tertiary speaking roles, and should reflect the gender representation of the film setting.

So will this work?  This is a structural design level diversity & inclusion reform – and that’s good!  That’s the kind of approach we know is more likely to succeed. BUT, without guardrails it can become a meaningless check the box exercise.

Good (and stated) intentions do little to move the needle on workplace #inclusion.  We need  what Iris Bohnet calls “equality by design” and what we call structural reform.

A structural reform or a design-level intervention means changing the process at the front end to address the biases and institutional barriers that reinforcing existing problems in order to remove barriers and disrupt biases. It means structuring decisions and aligning incentives so your standard operating procedure produces more of the outcomes you want – like improved diversity, equity, and inclusion. As Frank Dobbin & Sandra Kalev and others explain, structure and design matters – especially transparency, accountability, & measurement.

A classic example of a structural, design-level intervention is the NFL’s Rooney Rule. Cyrus and the late Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. issued a statistical report in 2002 showing that for Black coaches, “superior performance” translated to “inferior opportunities.” Under the leadership of the late Pittsburgh Steelers owner, the NFL adopted the requirement that at least one minority candidate be interviewed for each head coach or general manager vacancy.  This resulted in a record number of minority head coaches and general managers.  Showing the power of diversity, 10 Super Bowl teams over the last decade have been led by a minority head coach or general manager including among others Coaches Tony Dungy,  Mike Tomlin and Ron Rivera.

The story of the Rooney Rule has important lessons in thinking about Inclusion Riders. In the face of existing barriers keeping talented African-American and other minority coaching candidates from being hired as head coaches, the league agreed to a simple but powerful new step in its standard operating procedure. This simple reform led to dramatic improvements, and has now been increasingly adopted by corporate America. Notably, Smith includes a Rooney Rule style requirement as an additional key gender equity  complement to inclusion riders.

Similarly, inclusion riders could be a meaningful, structural, design-based reform that requires action. They set a SMART goal – Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based.  But there are a few key elements that could determine whether inclusion riders have as big an impact on Hollywood as the Rooney Rule did on the NFL.

First, as Smith and the Annenberg Center make clear, the discussion can’t be limited to gender representation. It must include goals based on race and ethnicity, and LGBT and disability inclusion, and should incorporate intersectional perspectives. Metrics besides representation — like pay equity and workplace harassment — are also important markers of inclusion.

Second, we believe, based on our own work, that reforms must go beyond the cast to include the crew. In 2017, Working IDEAL performed a gender pay equity study for a California union local representing some female dominated crafts working on film, television and commercial production crews. In the process we learned that film crews overall are highly gender segregated. The hiring process is often based on word of mouth and existing networks, making it hard for outsiders to break in. The kinds of jobs that are more open to women are likely to be lower paid with fewer protections. Sexual harassment is also a significant problem for women on film and television crews.  While a lot of attention has been paid to the barriers to women getting certain key jobs like director, creating inclusion goals and reforms to address crew positions across the board is also critical.

Third, inclusion riders must incorporate an accountability mechanism. How do you enforce and make sure qualifiers like “representation that reflects the film setting” don’t end up becoming work arounds?  How do you ensure equal opportunities for jobs on film crews across departments, instead of meeting targets by channeling underrepresented folks into lower paid or shorter-term positions?

One immediate option is full transparency.  Every Inclusion Rider should include contract language providing a public reporting mechanism, that kicks in at multiple steps in the process These reports will create pressure but also reward those who do the real work, can follow through and show results.

Over the long term we need more capacity building. Unions, studios, and production companies should be working together on aggressive recruitment, outreach and training plans. They should also be reporting their results. Together they could also develop benchmarks based on the available pool of talent that could bolster the Inclusion Rider targets.

One of the most effective moments last night was when Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph provided a hilarious but pointed caution: making a better effort to recognize and reward Black talent didn’t mean #OscarsSoWhite was no longer a problem. These are deep challenges that won’t be easy to solve. But “inclusion by design” is a good place to start.