SANTA CLARA, Calif. — When Super Bowl 50 came to the Bay Area, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the league would be implementing a Rooney Rule for women working in the league, ensuring at least one woman would be interviewed for all executive openings in the league office. Tuesday, the 49ers became the first NFL team to implement the same policy — the franchise began letting staffers know the same policy would be implemented for all business-side positions within the organization.
The move will ensure women are eligible to be hired for about 75 percent of the team’s positions. In addition, the 49ers will apply the rule to people of color as well.
The 49ers’ Rooney Rule will not apply to football-operations positions, such as coaching or scouting. However, San Francisco does currently employ one of the NFL’s few female athletic trainers.
Jed York, CEO of the 49ers, said the idea to implement the rule came after a discussion he had with his mother, Denise DeBartolo York. She is also the team’s principal owner. The two agreed the practice would effectively represent the cultural diversity of the Bay Area and would be an important statement about the principles of which the franchise stands for.
“I owe it to her, and we owe it to people, like my wife and sisters, that if you love sports, you should have an opportunity,” York said.
Hannah Gordon, the team’s general counsel, has held multiple positions within the 49ers, and in the NFL front office during the past decade. She said the team wanted to begin the program on the business side so they can execute it clearer moving forward. The ultimate goal is to expand the policy over time.
“What you’re essentially developing, you hope, are women who could be presidents of franchises,” Gordon said.
The 49ers also have a fellowship named for Denise, a program which previously placed female interns in the team’s marketing and football analytics departments. The program will now rotate women through different divisions within the organization, including those which have traditionally been dominated by men. DeBartolo York is a champion of diversity herself, she remains one of the few women whose name appears on the Stanley Cup, she owned the Pittsburgh Penguins when the team won an NHL championship.
“It’s an important way for us to say, this is what sports is all about, instead of saying, we’ll put women in marketing,” York said, adding, “this is the beginning, I don’t think we want to pat ourselves on the back, but this is a beginning.”
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