Barry Dornfeld

Barry Dornfeld


There has been much discussion in the business press about the lack of diversity in the technology sector. From the low percentages of African Americans, Latinos and women in tech companies, to the lack of minorities and women in computer science education, to the difficulty of minority and female business owners securing venture capital, this problem has become a public issue, though its not a new one. Microsoft and Intel are notably addressing the issue, and Google has funded some significant initiatives to improve diversity education and recruitment. But Facebook has perhaps put together the most significant effort around diversity. The company has made workforce diversity a strategic objective – and linked it directly to business performance. It’s no longer something “nice to do;” it’s a “need to do.”

A recent Marketplace public radio piece featured Facebook’s global director of diversity Maxine Williams, who spoke about her role and about Facebook’s key initiatives to increase diversity. “It will improve not just what we build but then how we serve people. Because we will understand people better.” Most interesting about the discussion was her reference to the National Football League’s Rooney rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and other senior management positions. The real impact of the Rooney rule is that it slows down unspoken, but well known, cultural responses, such as, “Minorities are often great athletes, but not great strategists,” and “We run an open process, and it’s just an accident that only white candidates rise to the top.” Tacit assumptions like these, as long as they remained below the surface and unexamined, result in teams looking at the usual candidates (often white).

The Rooney Rule forces teams to slow down, test assumptions, and consider candidates who might not be immediately on their radar. Although there may still be some debate about it, the data shows an uptick in minority hires for head coaching positions in the NFL since the Rooney rule was put in place, resulting in excellent hires of minority executives. And Black Entertainment Television’s Bob Johnson has suggested that businesses adopt the Rooney rule to increase diversity in their hiring practices. 

Ms. Williams sees the importance of pausing to take stock before charging ahead. She links these diversity initiatives to Facebook’s very “data driven culture” and foregrounds the importance of “cognitive diversity” as central to developing multiple ways to identify, understand and solve problems.  But she doesn’t use cognitive diversity as a way of avoiding the need for racial and ethnic diversity. Instead she sees the two as intertwined.

Speed is a competitive advantage in the tech industry as it is elsewhere, but that pace presents a challenge for hiring diverse candidates. Ms. Williams encourages people to slow down when they can. “Going too fast may mean that you take the easy route. What the Rooney rule requires you to do is slow down, widening your choices without lowering the bar, and encourages more diverse thinking in hiring.

This is a principle we believe in as well — “Slow down to speed up.”  Slow down to learn, take stock of the full range of options, including some you might not have considered.  By slowing down you can remove obstacles, avoid making the same mistake over and over again, and pick up the speed needed to gain competitive advantage and create the future you desire.