There are a lot of variations in the industry, but the crux of it is:

You have to [some stage of your interview process] [some number] under-represented candidates before you can make anyone an offer for a role.1

I’ve worked at places where the required interview stage part was “get to the offer stage” as well as where the requirement was at least 2 candidates. It varied based on the role and seniority we were hiring for. For some roles there were escape clauses that raised the requirements for future hires. Design a system that works for your goals, it’ll make it a lot easier to follow.

Two things to ensure up front:

  1. It’s very important that you define what “under-represented” means. The industry, role, location, team, all play a part in that definition. It all kinda varies on the goals of the company.
  2. Don’t be in a rush. Doing this well requires changes up and down the recruiting and hiring processes. Changes take time for people to process, understand, and support.

About those changes. Designing the rule is the easy part. Anyone can write a confluence doc and say they’re following the Rooney Rule. Unless the rest of the people involved in the hiring process are also onboard, it’ll likely cause chaos, and the rule will be seen as unworkable2. The real change3 is all the other stuff you need to do to make under-represented people feel comfortable enough to apply, interview, and accept an offer. The changes you need to make to fill one role will influence every other role during that hiring phase and after.

These are the things I’ve done when this has been successful:

  1. Transparency and empathy in all candidate messaging. Not a bad idea anyway, but you need to be comfortable with this from your head to your toes.
  2. Get to be friendly with your recruiters.Depending on how they are paid they are possibly wary of the impact their comp. A good relationship means that they’ll trust you to make it work. If they’re not in, it’s not gonna happen.
  3. Salary bands on job descriptions
  4. Clear role expectations in job description
  5. A clear message to recruiters to focus outreach only on underrepresented candidates.
    • Get a list of HBCUs as well as their sororities and fraternities into your searches
    • Include bootcamps in your search filters
    • Relax all other search constraints and manually review and filter more candidates
    • Be clear that you are available for a large number of brief intro calls to reduce pressure on filtering candidates
  6. A willingness to be open with candidates that you are following a Rooney Rule process, and might not be able to make them an offer until other candidates interview4
  7. A clear interview process with well defined rubrics
  8. Ensure interview process involves meeting as much of the team the’ll be working on as possible, without being overwhelming.
  9. People on the team should all have up to date LinkedIn profiles, and share those links in early messages with the candidate
  10. Email templates for each step of the interview process that cover everything that’s going to happen in the interviews. It should almost verge on giving the questions away (it’s the conversation that matters). Templates allow you to iterate as you go.
  11. Have a company blog where the lived values of the company are evident. If you can get senior leadership writing about the importance of diversity (assuming they believe it is), even better.
  12. A mini-site with honest “day in the life” details about the team that’s interviewing
    • Team manager and peer team managers
    • Codebase composition
    • Deploy processes
    • Customer testimonials
    • Team rituals and meeting cadences
  13. A codebase with good test coverage / documentation / observability6

It’s potentially a lot of work, doing it a bit at a time makes it feasible. There’s a reason that the status quo is easier. Pushing back against decades of bias and societal stereotypes isn’t ever going to be easy.

  1. The original NFL rule is more specific. The name is the same, but this implementation is designed for a different use case. ↩︎

  2. Speaking from experience here ↩︎

  3. Depending on where you’re starting from ↩︎

  4. For diversity focused candidates this is actually a selling point ↩︎

  5. It’s good to remember how much bias we’re all processing every moment of the day, especially in an interview cycle ↩︎

  6. Gatekeeping by Sr. engineers is required when the codebase requires institutional knowledge in order to meaningfully be changed. What does that do to career growth for under represented developers? ↩︎