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Steelers, Penguins and Pirates commit to more diverse hiring, inclusion practices

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh’s three professional sports teams announced Tuesday that they will strengthen their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

The Pirates, Penguins and Steelers say they plan to — or will continue to — implement policies outlined by the Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP).

The organization’s corporate equity and inclusion arm provided the teams with a "playbook" of more than 40 initiatives and tools that it says can be used to improve hiring and retention policies, as well as to increase the share of Black and brown employees at each organization.

Among the measures proposed is an expanded version of the Rooney Rule, the National Football League mandate that requires teams to interview candidates of color for top coaching jobs.

Jillian Forstadt
90.5 WESA
Shayla Holmes, youth summit coordinator for the Greater Pittsburgh Coalition Against Violence, speaks to the potential impact diverse hiring practices can have on disrupting violence in communities of color at Tuesday's announcement, held inside Acrisure Stadium.

Speaking at the PNC Champions Club inside Acrisure Stadium, Steelers executive David Morehouse said the team will extend that practice to hiring at all levels, from entry-level to executive positions.

“We're all going to work together [to] start putting some meat behind the Rooney Rule and implementing it across the Pittsburgh region,” Morehouse said.

Other strategy recommendations include setting measurable workforce diversity goals, and eliminating questions about prior arrests from job applications.

The City of Pittsburgh adopted the latter policy in 2012. Allegheny County followed suit in 2014.

Pirates vice president of strategies Nayli Russo-Long said her organization has adopted 34 of the concrete actions outlined in the playbook.

“That just tells you that the tool really gives you an ability to assess where you are and how you get better,” Russo-Long said. “Some of these things, when we looked at it, we said, ‘There is no reason for us not to have this here.’”

Penguins chief people officer and general counsel Tracy McCants Lewis said the hockey team is looking at how it can advance efforts to contract with more African American vendors and provide Black job-seekers with opportunities in the front office and in the team's division of hockey operations.

Changing hiring practices is the first step toward improving representation within corporate ranks, B-PEP CEO and chairman Tim Stevens said.

“The next step is retaining, and within the retaining, there is the mentoring,” he continued. “How do you mentor to keep people employed so they want to stay, create the environment so people want to stay?”

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Russo-Long said the Pirates have already made some progress on those goals. From 2020 to 2022, the share of Black seasonal staff increased from 9% to 18%.

But the team, she added, still has much more work to do when it comes to hiring more Black front-office staff members.

Stevens said B-PEP will have to be diplomatic in holding the teams accountable to their DEI commitments.

“We're not a legal entity with power over them,” he said. “We're a community-based organization, an initiative, where we have to depend on their commitment.”

Steven said that B-PEP and its Corporate Equity and Inclusion Roundtable, which published the playbook, are looking at convening the teams for quarterly or annual meetings during which they will be asked to give updates on their progress.

He said he hopes the teams’ commitment will encourage other employers to do the same.

“The commitment that we want from metropolitan Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh region — the 10-county region — is every organization to look at how they can adopt and implement, and put that implementation team together as to how they're going to go through that.”

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.