What the Super Bowl Can Teach You About Diversity Hiring

What the NFL taught us about diversity in hiring and how you can apply these same ideas to your business. 

At the beginning of the NFL’s 2020 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers became the first team in NFL history with all top coordinator positions being occupied by minorities and is the only team with 2 female coaches.  At the end of the season, they were Super Bowl Champions.  For the nearly 100 million viewers watching the game, it was pretty clear that the Buccaneers’ coaches knew how to get the win.

One of the most dominating performances of the game was delivered by the Buccaneers defensive line coached by Kacy Rodgers, who never played in the NFL, and spent the first seven years of his career coaching in the mid-major college ranks. Assistant DL coach, Lori Locust, came into the NFL ranks through the non-traditional path of female semi-pro leagues.  These diverse backgrounds, combined with Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles’  30+ year NFL knowledge, led to one of the most impressive defensive performances in a Super Bowl.

The success of the Buccaneers mirrors study after study that find a diverse organization increases performance and improves revenue.  It may also suggest that hiring systems may well miss exceptional talent (you remember Brady’s path to GOAT, right?)  - could your organization benefit from using a little of the Bucs hiring approach?  Probably.

Recent studies have shown that there is no change in the incidence of racial discrimnation in hiring over the past 25 years - the plateau appeared before the turn of the millennium.  Systemic racism is still prevalent in society and the employee selection process continues to be at risk of supporting bias in hiring decisions.  A few adjustments in your hiring systems could change that.

Begin with a clear description of your current hiring process and data sources.

Do you:
  • Use resume reviews as the first selection hurdle?
  • Rely heavily on employee referral programs?
  • Source exclusively from certain universities or companies?

Each of these steps adds bias to the selection decision. Interviewers are naturally drawn to people like themselves and this is common for all races, religions, and nationalities.  Resumes?  No matter what kind you use - standard CV or video resume - a resume does not tell you anything about future success in a job and it has little predictive validity  Even implementing the Rooney Rule did little to change NFL culture - the results were disappointing at best.

If your organization is struggling to get the diversity results you want, it’s probably not that the challenge is being ignored. It's more likely that your selection process unintentionally eliminates diverse talent!  Here is how to improve your hiring system.

Use Big Data to Find Top Applicants

Currently, NFL player selection is driven by ineffective evaluations such as the skills assessments that led to Chad Pennington being selected 181 picks ahead of the “soft, slow-footed” Tom Brady.  In addition, the NFL uses a cognitive assessment that has been proven to have zero correlation to future player success. So what should organizations (and the NFL) do instead?

Begin by implementing a valid, predictive assessment that describes each candidate’s strengths and how they fit with the job and the organization; you can also evaluate learning style (cognitive skills).  This step is important for filling every job - one analysis of 17 different studies found that “a simple equation outperforms human [selection] decisions by at least 25%... whether the job is on the front line, in middle management, or (yes) in the C-suite”.  So go ahead and use big-data assessment science and technology - the evaluations and job matching functions are unfakeable, readily available, easy to use, and very cost effective.

Use job simulations to get more useful data

A job simulation provides useful information about how an applicant would approach the position’s day-to-day work.  It also gives the applicant an accurate preview of the role. The top candidates should complete this step.

Research shows that the NFL job simulation provides useful information about the candidate, the best predictor of success is found by examining actual past performance. If you don’t have actual past performance data (most of the time you won’t), then a job simulation is the next best thing.

Job simulations (sometimes called work samples or portfolios) help evaluate a candidate’s current capabilities. They require a candidate to complete tasks that mirror those they would perform if they were in the job. Simulations evaluate a candidate’s level of skill and can also assess more general skills, such as organizational, analytical and interpersonal skills.

Use interviews to collect data, not to become friends

It’s hard to get an interview right. Without you being aware of it, the time of day, your mood, and your unconscious bias can all reduce the effectiveness of an interview. You can improve the interview’s value easily by using behavioral questions, designed to discover how a candidate actually handled work situations in the past. To elicit this more reliable information, don’t ask, “How would you . . . ?” Ask, “How did you . . . ?”

The strategies candidates have used in the past are good indicators of how they would act in a new job, so find out what they have tried and talk about their results - did the actions work or not? Knowing what didn’t work is as important as knowing the actions that did.

If it sounds like this approach takes a lot of time, consider how much time and money you spend managing a poor performer!  Managers use about 17% of work time or about one day a week on trying to get poor performers to improve.  Follow these steps and you’ll reap the benefits of increased hiring efficiency, more individual programmer success, and an outstanding tech team that can help grow your organization.

You can achieve your diversity goals by implementing these steps.  Talent acquisition leaders can help improve diversity so that the next 25 years shows more progress than the last 25 years.