BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — The Rooney Rule that has helped diversify front office and coaching jobs in the NFL has been such a success that the league has expanded it to include interviewing women for all executive positions at the league office.
This weekend, the league conducted a women's career development symposium where aspiring executives gathered to share ideas, participate in panel discussions and breakout sessions, network and encourage one another to seek advancement.
"It only made sense to extend the rule to include gender diversity for league office executive positions," said Robert Gulliver, the NFL's chief human resources officer. "If you think outside the NFL, a lot of major organizations have announced in the last year similar efforts to extend something like the Rooney Rule. Here's an opportunity for clubs to adopt this as a best practice, and we are excited about the opportunity to have some more thoughtful dialogue with the clubs."
Among the 41 participants was Hannah Gordon, the 49ers' general counsel. Gordon, who also has worked for the league office, was impressed by the wide spectrum of sessions at the symposium, citing specifically the balance of academicians coming in to talk about what can be applied at the 32 clubs, and league personnel emphasizing what already is being done.
"I think we can always do more, and if we ever stop looking at how can improve diversity, we are dead in the water," Gordon said. "When I started at the league office in 2009, Robert Gulliver had been hired around then and I got the sense this was a new focus for the league. And if you look at the way their programming has grown over the last seven years, there's no question they are looking to lead, and that this is an important issue across the board.
"Being that I work for a woman-owned team and the team that had Bill Walsh as the head coach, a team having Dr. Harry Edwards still advising us 30-plus years later, our diversity is something we are very aware of and proud of. But we're always looking to improve on it. Having active discussions about what more we can do to go attract the talent and develop that talent is very important and helpful."
The NFL is filled with women in key positions, ranging from senior vice president Renie Anderson, chief football operations strategy officer Kimberly Fields and chief marketing officer Dawn Hudson at its headquarters to such team executives as Dawn Aponte in Miami, Jeanne Bonk in San Diego, Allison Maki in Detroit and Katie Blackburn in Cincinnati. All of them took part this weekend, as did faculty members from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Tuck Business School at Dartmouth.
In all, one woman from every club and nine women from the league office and partner organizations attended sessions focusing on topics ranging from negotiation and persuasion to communications to meeting the challenges the NFL faces.
"I am sure everyone has their own messages," Bengals Executive Vice President Katie Blackburn said. "The main message is there are opportunities there. Anyone interested in pursuing any sort of course should feel empowered to pursue those opportunities.
"I don't know what timeframe you look at. I personally went to Dartmouth 10 years after it went coed; even the high school I attended at one point in time was all male. Things change, the NFL has changed. The opportunities for women available at a team, there are more areas I would say, such as the marketing department, or in the growth of IT, all of these areas that are important to a football team. A symposium like this is just an opportunity to encourage them and see if there are areas they feel we can assist them."
Might such presentations become an annual occurrence?
"We will see what comes out of this and what comes out of some others," Blackburn says. "I think we keep an open mind and try to continue to do things that will actually be impactful or make a difference."