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Penn State Health’s modified employment policy for interviews increases diverse hires

Penn State Health has seen the diversity of its senior leaders climb dramatically since implementing a diverse interview pool requirement. The health system now requires interviews for all manager or higher-level positions and faculty/physician positions to include candidates from racial/ethnic minority backgrounds and genders.

The biggest benefit of hiring more diverse talent, said Lynette Chappell-Williams, Penn State Health’s vice president and chief diversity officer, is that it helps the health system support its increasingly diverse patient population through improved communication and enhanced cultural awareness.

“To many people seeking employment, especially millennials, who are a part of the most diverse generational group ever, the shifting composition of our workforce toward higher diversity and inclusivity is very appealing,” she said.

Penn State Health implemented this interview candidate strategy in 2016. This year, it amended its Fair Employment Selection Processes Policy, known as HR 09, to require all hiring managers and recruiters to include at least one racial/ethnic minority and at least one underrepresented gender, based on the general gender representation of that position, in the interview pool.

The “Rooney Rule”

Health system leaders modeled the policy after the “Rooney Rule”, a diversification strategy developed by the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dan Rooney. The National Football League began requiring all head coach searches to include at least one person of color beginning in 2003. Over the next 10 years, racial/ethnic minority representation of head coaches increased from 6% to 22%.

Penn State Health saw a similar result after implementing the Rooney Rule, first at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and then the health system. Like the National Football League, Penn State Health senior leadership’s combined racial/ethnic, gender and veteran representation increased from 31% in 2016 to 48% in 2020.

“The success of the Rooney Rule strategy served as an excellent example of what can be achieved by mitigating unconscious bias,” said Chappell-Williams. “The amended policy was adopted based on research.”

Translating data into action

According to the 2016 Harvard Business Review article, “If There’s Only One Woman in Your Candidate Pool, There’s Statistically No Chance She’ll Be Hired,” the odds of hiring a woman were 79.14 times greater if there were at least two women in the finalist pool, controlling for the number of other men and women finalists. The odds of hiring a minority were 193.72 times greater if there were at least two minority candidates in the finalist pool, controlling for the number of other minority and white finalists.

“These statistics show the impact of a diverse interview slate in minimizing unconscious bias, leading to a more diverse workforce — an important tool for recruiting candidates and serving patients from different backgrounds,” said Chappell-Williams.

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