The announcement was made by the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the league’s first Women’s Summit, days before the Super Bowl played on Sunday 7 February, and in the wake of a series of domestic violence cases involving some of the sports biggest stars.
It represents an expansion of the league’s Rooney Rule, which obligates NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for any head coach or general manager opening, with the exception of only covering openings at the league’s headquarters and jobs on the executive level.
In total, 30 percent of the 330 employees at league headquarters are women, while 30 out of the 120 executive positions are held by women.
In addition to the new measure, the league has also created a database of potential female candidates to help teams when they look to fill positions.
The initiative to diversify leadership in the upper ranks of the NFL comes after a Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport study in 2015 gave the NFL a C-plus on its gender hiring practices.
European football pushes for greater diversity at leadership level
The NFL move comes at a time of change also in European sport.
In December 2014 Fare published a report looking into the levels of representation of visible ethnic minorities and women in leadership positions, and the experiences of elite level ethnic minority coaches in European football.
It found that less than 4% of European football leaders are women, only 12% of women are employed as senior administrators, only 0.4% of ethnic minorities are employed in the same positions, and only 3.4% of elite level coaches with clubs and national teams are from an ethnic minority background.
A similar study in English football found that only 19 ethnic minority coaches are employed in 552 positions across 92 professional clubs, just 3.4% of the roles available.
Both studies underlined an urgent need for football authorities to address the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities and women in leadership jobs.
As a result in February 2015, English football bodies discussed the possibility of introducing a version of the Rooney Rule to ensure that minority coaches would be considered for high-level coaching positions. In addition, the Premier League launched a new scheme to fund coach apprenticeships for coaches from ethnic minority backgrounds (BME) and women.
Also in 2014, Europe’s football confederation UEFA launched a leadership programme for women in football and later in 2015 created the programme Captains of Change to strive for a more inclusive environment in European football.
More recently, FIFA Executive member Moya Dodd put forward a plan to address gender imbalance at FIFA and the underrepresentation and under-resourcing of women’s football, which will be assessed by the FIFA Reform Committee.