BET's Bob Johnson pitches 'Rooney Rule' to corporate America

theGRIO REPORT - Robert Johnson has proposed a version of the NFL's 'Rooney Rule' to be implemented by Fortune 1000 companies to increase employment and business opportunities for African-Americans...

The nation’s first African-American billionaire, Robert Johnson, has a proposal to increase employment and business opportunities for African-Americans. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, is positioning the plan as an effort to “engage the business community in addressing the inequitable unemployment rates for African-Americans.”

The plan is a version of the NFL’s “Rooney Rule”, a practice adopted in 2003 essentially to expand the pool of coach candidates to include more qualified African-Americans. Since its implementation, the rule has served its purpose — increasing the number of African-American coaches in the NFL.

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It’s that success, whether relevant or not, that Johnson is pushing to spark in the private business sector with what is being called the RLJ Rule.

The two-tiered proposal is to be implemented by Fortune 1000 companies, calling for these businesses to: interview a minimum of two qualified African-American candidates for every job opening at the vice president level and above; and to interview at least two qualified African-American firms for vendor supplier/services contracts before awarding a new company contract to a vendor.

“The RLJ Rule is principally designed to encourage companies to voluntarily establish a ‘best practices’ policy to identify and interview the tremendous talent pool of African-American managers and African-American companies that are often overlooked because of traditional hiring or procurement practices,” stated Johnson in a circulated press release.

And many would agree that those traditional hiring practices have largely kept African-Americans out when it comes to senior-level management positions.

“It really is in the network,” C. Nicole Mason, research assistant professor at NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, told theGrio.

“If you ask me ‘hey Nicole,’ I’m looking for a person for this position,’ then I would suggest a name from my network and I’m not really going to do a Google search for a [qualified] candidate.

Mason views the RLJ rule as a way to give educated African-Americans more opportunity to get “inside the game and into the inner pipeline and into rooms where top decisions are being made,” but also asserts that Johnson’s plan should be part of a larger national strategy to reduce the high unemployment among African-Americans.

Efforts by members of the private sector to take more social responsibility for increasing employment are often viewed as laudable but much of the criticism of this plan stems from the fact that it would really only help educated African-Americans, specifically those with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, at least in the short-term.

It would not address the crippling levels of joblessness among black workers with less education, explained John Powell, executive director of the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State University, in a recent Huffington Post editorial.

The underlying goal, if enacted correctly, of course, is for the RLJ plan to create a trickle down effect to “assure that the best and brightest African-Americans have a chance to that they can participate and contribute,” according to Johnson.

National Black Employee Association Bay Area chapter president Ray Newsome says the long-term benefits may in fact affect more African-Americans.

“When you have people of color in high positions of power and influence, there is a greater opportunity that they will hire other non-whites,” Newsome told theGrio.

The plan is being pushed into corporate circles.

According to an RLJ press contact, letters of support for voluntary implementation of the RLJ rule have been sent to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Council, the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce, the Executive Leadership Council, the President’s Jobs Council, the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional leadership of both parties, National Black Urban League, the NAACP, National Minority Supplier Development Council, National Black MBA Association and other civil rights, civic and faith-based organizations.

Johnson stated he is “urging corporate America to embrace this idea of providing fairness and equity in employment opportunities…” however, Johnson has faced recent criticism for not accepting other forms of “fairness,” specifically when it comes to taxation of the rich.

“I think the president has to recalibrate his message,” Johnson said on a recent Fox News Sunday appearance.

“You don’t get people to like you by attacking them or demeaning their success. I grew up in a family of 10 kids, first one to go to college, and I’ve earned my success. I’ve earned my right to fly private if I choose to do so. And by attacking me, is not going to convince me that I should take a bigger hit because I happen to be wealthy.”

Johnson’s implied disapproval of the now famous “Buffett Rule,” and his open criticism of the president has caused some African-Americans to question his underlying intentions.

Nonetheless, Johnson has learned to play in the game of wealth. He was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the 400 richest Americans after he made a fortune when he sold the BET cable network more than 10 years ago to Viacom for a reported $3 billion.

Who knows? Maybe Johnson really is the right man to propose that businesses and corporations implement a version of the Rooney Rule.

“This is what he knows and this is what he sees,” said Mason.