PITTSBURGH — Last April, less than a week after legendary Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney died, Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto passed an executive order he had been mulling over for years.
Allegheny County, of which Pittsburgh is the seat, had previously mandated that the Rooney Rule, the NFL policy that requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs, be followed for government hirings. On April 19, 2017, Peduto announced the city that birthed the Rooney Rule would also adopt it for its senior management personnel.
“Historically, the city of Pittsburgh’s administrations were not reflective of the diversity of the city. That was not only by race, but by gender,” Peduto tells the MMQB in his office during a visit this August. “What we were doing was limiting the pool of candidates that we were looking at and doing a disservice to the people. Our goal was very simple: if you widen the net you get different types of candidates with different backgrounds, you create a better workforce.”
Instituting the Rooney Rule is not an immediate elixir for a lack of diverse hirings. In the year before the NFL’s 2003 installation of the rule, Tony Dungy and Herm Edwards were the only minority head coaches in the league. Today, there are eight minority head coaches, matching the league’s peak in 2011. It’s not reflective of a league that’s nearly three-quarters minority, but there has been objective, if slow, progress in the past 15 years.
And for Pittsburgh, it’s a step in the right direction. The population of Pittsburgh is roughly 300,000—36% of whom are minority. In the 365 days since the executive order was passed last April, the city saw an increase in minorities hired—out of 178 promotions, 39 of those (21%) were minorities. When you exclude the 64 promotions in public safety, a historically white sector of city government, that number rises to 24%.
Dan Rooney’s son and current Steelers owner, Art Rooney II, has seen plenty of organizations adopt the rule over the years. How necessary was it for the city he grew up in to establish this rule?
“You can use the word necessary, you can say about time, however you want to describe it,” Art Rooney II says. “I think it’s something that hopefully, whether it’s necessary or about time, it’s going to be implemented and help.
“In some cases it’s a long time coming, so to speak.”
This July, the city released its inaugural Pittsburgh Equity Indicators report for the year 2017, a vast survey that attempts to pinpoint problem areas for the city’s residents of different races, genders and incomes. A letter from Peduto at the beginning of the report prepares the reader for what’s to come.
“…amidst great advancements in society,” the Democratic mayor writes, “we are now experiencing the same systemic inequalities that existed during the turn of the 20th century.”
On a scale of 1-100 (with 100 showing no inequality among subgroups), Pittsburgh’s 2017 equality score was 55. “This score suggests that inequalities by race, gender, and income are prevalent in Pittsburgh,” the report states, “with some populations likely to have less access to resources and worse health, economic, and social outcomes.” In Pittsburgh, like cities across America, your race and zip code could well determine your future. For example, the black infant mortality rate there is four times higher than that of white babies.
One of the biggest challenges that plagues the city is diversity in public safety and, in particular, law enforcement officers. An overwhelmingly white police department can’t be changed in a year (the time since the Rooney Rule was implemented), and progress to get more minorities in senior level positions will be tougher because of it. From 2001 until ’12, only 23 out of 530 officers—or about 4%—were black, and in 2012 a lawsuit was filed on behalf of five black police-officer applicants who accused the police department of racial discrimination. (In 2015, the city agreed to a settlement of $985,000 to those applications who were rejected for jobs.
“We’re swimming against decades of hiring practices that have actually had us sued by the ACLU,” Peduto says.
Peduto says there’s a special emphasis being placed on public safety. Of the 64 promotions in that sector in the year after the Rooney Rule was implemented, 19 were female and 12 were minorities, both not reflective of the city demographics but better than the previous decade. And of the past three police academy classes, there have been a total of 108 recruits. Eighty of them are white men (and 87 total white people when including women) while just 15 black people have been hired by the police, making up 13.8% of the classes.
Rooney says himself that the Rooney Rule, as it was initially implemented, isn’t hard to follow. All you have to do is simply interview a minority for a job.
“Not asking a lot, right?,” Rooney asks rhetorically. “I think for organizations to actually have success, it’s got to be more than that. There’s got to be attention paid to how do you develop people so when they get to that interview, they’re actually qualified to take that next step.”
This is where Janet Manuel comes in. Manuel, a black woman, is the city’s director of HR and civil service, and Peduto appointed her as the inaugural diversity and inclusion officer when he implemented the executive order in 2017. Pittsburgh does not have a third-party watchdog, so it’s Manuel’s job to hold the city accountable for its hiring practices and report to city council.
In order to attract diverse candidates, Manuel had to get creative. Rather than doing typical job-placement ads, she converted community events into de facto career fairs. When a local radio station held a back-to-school backpack drive, representatives from police, fire and EMS departments were on hand. The city has taken out ads in veterans magazine to attract that subgroup as well. And the city has also involved Pittsburgh’s private entities and unions in their efforts, which resulted in a January union-led job fair that attracted 4,100 people and involved pro bono work like setting up checking accounts and expunging records of minor criminal offenses.
Among the hires and promotions of women and minorities for senior management personnel positions in the city since April 2017? Here’s a list: director of HR and civil service, director of finance, acting director of parks and rec, assistant director of community affairs, senior HR manager of Pittsburgh Partnership, HR manager, benefits and wellness manager, police sergeant, crew chief, supervisory clerk, community outreach supervisor, program supervisor of Pittsburgh Partnership, Gender Equity Commission executive director, city clerk, HR manager for employee and wellness development and the senior planner.
It’s an impressive start for the mayor and the city, and now it must continue, also avoiding the mistakes that some NFL teams have made. There has been an appearance among some franchises over the years that minority candidates are interviewed for a job just to check the box. In 2003, the league fined the Lions $200,000 for not adhering to the rule. In January, Wooten said Raiders owner Mark Davis “failed to fulfill his obligation” to the rule when he quickly hired Jon Gruden as head coach. (The NFL concluded Oakland did adhere to the rule.)
Manuel says the city has implemented training and development for internal candidates and expanded their sourcing for external candidates so as to avoid any perception of the rule being a sham.
“And people think we’re saying it just to say it and it’s nice to say,” Manuel says “but in the past year I think the work that’s been done has proven that we take it seriously, and we’re going to take all efforts both internally and externally that the right people are placed in the position and not have it made a mockery out of it.”
Peduto boasts that three of the five members on the urban redevelopment authority are black. Seven of the nine people in the city’s planning department are women. Before the interview is over, Peduto recalls the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates being the first team in Major League Baseball to field an all-black lineup. When asked about it after the game, manager Danny Murtaugh said he simply put the best nine players on the field.
“We have a lot of talent in this city,” Peduto says, “and my goal is to find the ones that have been placed at a card table for years and take them to the big table.”