A “Rooney Rule” for ambassador openings

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced yesterday that “every time we have an opening for an ambassador position, at least one of the candidates must be a minority candidate.” This is a version of the Rooney Rule used by the NFL to fill coaching vacancies. It’s named after former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney.

Ironically, Rooney was U.S. ambassador to Ireland during the Obama administration. He gained that post the old-fashion way — by funneling money to the Obama campaign.

I agree with Roger Clegg that the hiring practice effectuated by the Rooney Rule is divisive, unfair, and an endorsement of just the sort of identity politics that we ought to have learned by now is poisonous. In addition, I think it’s illegal if it operates, as it often does, to exclude white candidates from consideration due to their race or, as it rarely does, to award a job to an African-American who wouldn’t otherwise have been selected.

To expand on the last point, in my experience with large employers the Rooney Rule type approach rarely benefits African-Americans. Most such employers are eager to promote well-qualified African-Americans. They identify strong candidates within their work force early on and cultivate them. They may also seek strong candidates externally, through recruiters. There is no little reason to believe that good minority candidates aren’t being considered for upper-level jobs due to their race.

If, however, an employer or a particular manager has an aversion to selecting minority candidates for upper-level positions, the Rooney Rule won’t help. It only requires that a minority be considered. The kind of manager we’re positing here will consider but reject the candidate foisted on him or her by the Rule.

The fall back argument in defense of the Rooney Rule is that at least it gives promising African-American candidates a chance to go through the hiring process, thereby gaining valuable experience — e.g., in interviewing for high-level jobs. As I noted, though, promising African-American employees are rarely denied these opportunities.

Moreover, the black employee’s gain of experience normally comes at the expense of a white employee who doesn’t get considered and interviewed. If the black employee is being favored with this thing of value because of his or her race, that’s unfair. It’s a form of race discrimination.

In announcing his new rule for selecting ambassadors, Tillerson touted “the value of diversity.” He claimed that it “enriches our work, it enriches our work product to have individuals who come with a different cultural perspective or they come with different life experiences.”

Let’s put aside the racial stereotyping inherent in this statement and ask how it applies to ambassadorships. What do we gain by having someone with dark skin representing the U.S. in foreign capitals, even assuming that the person with dark skin has a different cultural perspective than a white ambassador in another capital or someone behind a desk back in Foggy Bottom?

I doubt that the Bulgarians or the South Koreans will think they are enriched by having a “diverse” ambassador. If anything, they may feel insulted if they suspect the ambassador got the post due in part to his race. They may wonder why the U.S. decided to inflict on them an ambassador whose resume is so thin it didn’t even warrant an interview without the assistance of the Rooney Rule. Indeed, the Nigerians may wonder the same thing.

Rex Tillerson embodies the titan of U.S. industry as squish. If President Trump hadn’t put him in the Cabinet, he would probably be resigning from some business council to protest the president declaring, correctly, that the antifa thugs share responsibility for the violence in Charlottesville.

Meanwhile, we await Tillerson’s first significant accomplishment as Secretary of State. Imposing the Rooney Rule isn’t it.

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