Roger Goodell: Women will interview for open executive jobs

espnW.com columnist Jane McManus explains how the NFL's Rooney Rule for women will be implemented and some of the challenges it presents.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday that the league will institute a Rooney Rule for women when it comes to all NFL executive positions.

He announced the decision in opening remarks at the NFL Women's Summit, where roughly 250 men and women associated with the league are gathered to listen to a slate of speakers on issues affecting women in sports.

"Last but not least, it's management, and when I say that, it's about diversity in our management. We believe in diversity," Goodell said. "We believe we're better as an organization when we have good people at the table. We have great people at the table. We're also seeing it on the field. ...

"You can see that progress is being made and our commitment is, we have something called the Rooney Rule, which requires us to make sure when we have an opening that on the team or the league level that we are going to interview a diverse slate of candidates.

"Well, we're going to make that commitment and we're going to formalize that we, as a league, are going to do that for women as well in all of our executive positions. Again, we're going to keep making progress here and make a difference."

The NFL's Rooney Rule requires teams to interview one minority candidate for each open coaching position. The rule was instituted in 2003 in response to the small percentage of minority candidates being named to head-coaching positions. The rule aims to force decision-makers to become familiar with candidates they might not otherwise consider.

"It's a beginning, the challenge of course is the follow through," said tennis champion Billie Jean King, who spoke at the event. "There's a new commitment from the NFL. I think there's something special about a 50th anniversary, it's an ending but it's also a beginning and I think they're starting to figure out this commitment to girls and women."

This past season, women broke barriers in the NFL when the league hired its first female official in Sarah Thomas. Last month the Bills hired Kathryn Smith as a special-teams assistant coach, the first full-time female coach in the league. A number of women serve as vice presidents at the league level, including those in marketing and public policy.

According to the NFL, 30 percent of the employees in the league's front office are women.

Michelle McKenna-Doyle, a senior VP and CIO for the league, said this week the NFL launched a website where interested candidates can create profiles for jobs. That way, even if a position isn't currently available, the NFL will have a list of women and minority candidates when jobs do become available.

McKenna said the league's internal women's affinity group conceived of the idea to build the number of women in the pipeline.

"You have to have a rule that starts it," McKenna-Doyle said. "You still pick the best candidate, but it's just being in consideration, it shows a big vote of confidence. It will change the face of the NFL."

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whom Goodell introduced at the end of his remarks, addressed the issues that keep the number of women and minorities down in corporate jobs.

"They keep looking in the same channels; they keep finding the same people," Rice said.

Rice emphasized that executives can find people like themselves to groom for advancement, but they can also find people who aren't like themselves. She said if she'd waited to find a mentor who was a black woman and a Soviet specialist, she'd still be waiting.

Rice is a football fan and serves on the College Football Playoff selection committee. She also has said she'd be interested in serving as NFL commissioner.

"Most of the mentors in my field were white men. They were mostly old white men," Rice said.

Said King: "You do have to get a critical mass at the bottom. You try to choose from within if you can because they've already been in your co-culture and understand, and you want give people a chance to be promoted, so you have to have a critical mass at both ends. It's not just words, it's words and actions matching."

Tennis champion Serena Williams, as well as actress and "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks, also are scheduled to speak at the two-day event. Goodell also said the summit likely will become an annual event around the Super Bowl.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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