Resignation Of Raiders Head Coach Underscores Value Of DEI Training To Help Prevent Crises
The resignation Monday of Jon Gruden, head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders NFL team, is a timely reminder for business leaders about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training to help prevent corporate crisis situations.
Gruden’s resignation came hours after the New York Times published a story about his use of misogynistic, homophobic and racist language in emails over the years. In announcing Gruden’s resignation and his interim replacement, the football team made no mention of the story on their website or the reason for his sudden departure.
The NFL and the Las Vegas Raiders did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this story.
Rosalind Chow, associate professor of organizational behavior at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, observed that, “It's great that the NFL is taking a strong stance on this. Given the particulars of the case, that seems appropriate. That being said, it would be ideal if there was a process for how these cases are dealt. No one seems to have a standard of what would constitute a fireable offense vs. warning, etc.
Timing Is Suspect
“In a related vein, where was the NFL when all of these emails were being sent out? Did none of the people who received the offensive emails bring them to the attention of leadership? Why was this behavior tolerated for so long? I applaud the NFL for taking swift action, but the timing is suspect; basically they waited until the PR was going to be too negative for them to do anything else,” she noted.
Amber Micala Arnold is vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion for PR firm MikeWorldWide (MWW). She said, “The NFL has made significant strides in its DEI efforts since its poor handling of Colin Kaepernick's silent kneeling protest five years ago— from implementing wide-sweeping reforms to [increasing] the representation of women and people of color in its workforce, to committing more than $250 million toward social and racial justice work.
“But DEI is a long game—a journey, not a destination—so there will always be room for improvement, as proven by [Gruden’s resignation].”
Arnold advised that, “The NFL should be more proactive and swifter in addressing discriminatory comments and behaviors, not wait until there is public backlash when that conduct is brought to light.
“Gruden's slew of unchecked racist, homophobic, and misogynistic comments over the last decade should have been investigated and met with disciplinary action much sooner —but instead, Gruden was able to step down on his own terms, even if there were folks behind the scene encouraging him to do so,” she noted.
Arnold recalled that, “In recent years, we’ve seen very public missteps from several leading brands and companies that have turned different groups off with how they communicate to and with them, as well as how they go to market with certain products or services. Had there been a team with a truly diverse and inclusive mindset bringing these initiatives to life, these incidents wouldn’t happen.
“But efforts must go beyond training to actual culture shift. Organizations must embed diversity, equity, and inclusion into the fabric of their culture, which in turn leads to a more cultural competent workforce that consists of individuals who know how to connect and resonate with different target audiences. Until organizations move beyond just putting on generic unconscious bias training or hiring a token diverse leader, they will continue to miss the mark and have to issue apologies.”
Advice For Business Leaders
Noa Gafni is the executive director of the Rutgers Institute for Corporate Social Innovation. She said,” Too often, we treat diversity, equity, and inclusion as a ‘tick the box’ exercise and not as a source of organizational strength.
“Crises are often a result of blindspots. Whether it's racial, gender, or unseen characteristics like socioeconomic status, listening to diverse talent at all levels of the organization can not only help executives manage crises more effectively but avoid them in the future,” she recommended.
Susie Silver, senior consultant and strategist, LGBTQ+ SME at The Diversity Movement, said, “... business leaders must think about DEI as a vital part of their organization’s success. For too long DEI in organizational culture has been treated like a side item or checkbox.
“Leaders must change their mindset about this. Successful DEI initiatives are also supported by data, which in turn, can help leaders that are unsure of how DEI ties to business outcomes understand the importance of it. Work on organizational DEI from the inside out, and know it is okay that the work takes time; It is an ongoing journey for all stakeholders,” Silver counseled.
Helping The Bottom Line
Angela Reddock-Wright is founder and managing partner of the Reddock Law Group and an employment and labor law attorney. She said, “DEI programs should help employers identify disparities in recruiting, hiring, pay and promotion. They can actually help the bottom line, but they are only as good as the processes and guidelines that companies adopt.
“Even when companies take steps to eliminate overt bias, unconscious bias can be present. A lot of jobs result from word-of-mouth among people who are demographically alike. Black workers are frequently rated lower than their white counterparts, subjected to more scrutiny and at greater risk of being fired. Too many end up leaving jobs that could have put them on an upward trajectory.
“The most effective DEI programs have an open line of communication with employees and provide resources and support to help them succeed. The best will include clear diversity hiring goals, annual training for managers and recruiters, recruiting outreach for underrepresented groups, and a designated DEI person to track goals, review complaints and concerns, and implement measures to reduce turnover,” she said.
Arnold of MikeWorldWide (MWW) said there are three lessons corporate executives can learn from Gruden’s resignation.
- “Be proactive, not reactive in your approach to handling DEI issues: Taking a proactive stance shows intent and accountability to stakeholders, as well as the desire to want to learn from one's missteps. Being reactive just says, ‘sorry I got caught’”.
- “Listen to your employees: At the end of the day, an organization's employees are its greatest assets; if leaders are not listening to what their employees want, it will impact their business, reputation, and credibility with external stakeholders, including customers, fans, and prospective talent.”
- “Assess workplace standards and ensure that discriminatory language and behaviors are strictly prohibited and will be met with disciplinary action. It may be important to provide examples or a list of unacceptable terms and actions within this purview to make it unarguably clear; these policies should also be revisited annually and consulted by a wide range of stakeholders.”