Article originally published by Nasdaq on March 7, 2022.

On February 1, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL and three of its member teams that has sparked a meaningful conversation that reaches far beyond the world of sports.

Flores’s lawsuit alleges racial discrimination in hiring and firing. It has spotlighted what is known as the “Rooney Rule,” which requires member teams to interview minority candidates before filling open positions for head coach. Flores, who is Black, contends that the rule isn’t having its intended impact of increasing diversity.

The NFL is not alone in struggling with how to systematically increase representation of Black and other historically underrepresented talent. In other industries, this hiring practice is often known as a “diverse candidate slate” requirement — and it is not uncommon. In fact, such slates are used by 61% of companies surveyed in our recent Stepping Up for Equity report

Do diverse candidate slates work? It depends.

Many organizations believe diverse candidate slates are effective in building a more diverse talent pool, which has the downstream impact of increasing representation — and can point to gains in workforce representation to back up those assertions. According to our newly released research, Stepping Up for Equity, about half (55%) reported that diverse candidate slates have provided high or moderate efficacy as a strategy for driving equity. (Figure 1)

Figure 1: Diverse candidate and interview slates

Source: Mercer. Stepping Up for Equity, 2022.

Based on our experience, we believe diverse candidate slates can be effective as part of an overall diversity strategy, but alone, they are not sufficient to move the needle on increasing workforce racial diversity. There are still significant cultural and process-based challenges that hamper their effectiveness and can end up driving a “check the box” mentality.

Getting diverse candidate slates right

To work, diverse candidate slates must be supported by a holistic and comprehensive talent acquisition strategy.


Talent acquisition resourcing:
Ensure that you have the right resourcing to be successful. A comprehensive talent acquisition strategy that focuses on diversity may require more resourcing and/or recruiters with different skill sets than those in place today, such as those with strong sourcing capabilities and the ability to discern transferable skills.

Passive sourcing:
Cultivate connections with historically underrepresented talent on a continuous basis — not just when a position opens up. An established pipeline of qualified and pre-screened candidates will enhance the quality of the interview slate and also speed up critical time-to-fill metrics.

Attracting candidates:
Take a critical look at job descriptions, which can be riddled with a lengthy list of required qualifications that are, in fact, preferred or can be learned on the job, as well as language that deters diverse talent from applying.

Diverse interview panel:
A diverse slate of candidates is best assessed by a diverse panel of interviewers who will bring unique perspectives to the evaluation process.

Culture add” instead of “culture fit”:
Given the vast diversity of any candidate pool, companies are better served by looking for “culture add,” which encourages interviewers to set aside biases and be more open to individuals with identities and backgrounds that aren’t the norm for the organization.

Mitigating individual bias:
Use just-in-time bias training before the interview process, including unconscious bias training during the interview and selection process. Ensuring interviewers use a standardized interview guide and rating system can also reduce bias.  

Data tracking:
Track the progression of underrepresented talent at all stages of the screening process to uncover hidden barriers and understand where applicants may be disproportionally falling out of the process.

Change management:
Implement a robust change management plan to support the process, ensuring all stakeholders understand the talent acquisition process and intent of diverse candidate slates and are equipped to participate effectively. 

They work, but diverse candidate slates may not be solving the actual problem

In our experience, many companies successfully hire underrepresented talent — yet, over time, there is little or no improvement in the overall diversity of the workforce. In situations like this, it’s perhaps natural to assume that diverse candidate slates and other talent acquisition tactics are failing.


In fact, our data shows that hiring underrepresented talent is only one part of the story and points to different root causes: lack of promotion and retention of underrepresented talent. Clearly, that’s a different set of challenges to address — and underscores that the bright spotlight on diverse candidate slates is not illuminating the whole problem.


Unfortunately, recent headlines surrounding the NFL’s workforce diversity outcomes may have the unintended consequence of providing the justification wary organizations and leaders have been looking for to reject diverse candidate slates. That would be a shame. Diverse candidate slates can work when they are thoughtfully implemented and rigorously monitored as part of a holistic talent acquisition strategy. 

Angela Berg
By Angela Berg

Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consulting Leader at Mercer

Victoria Archer
By Victoria Archer

Talent Strategy and DEI Consultant, Mercer

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