Home » Cleveland Browns » NFL Chief Diversity Officer Jonathan Beane on how the NFL can lead and why Browns GM Andrew Berry is ‘absolutely critical’ in his efforts

NFL Chief Diversity Officer Jonathan Beane on how the NFL can lead and why Browns GM Andrew Berry is ‘absolutely critical’ in his efforts

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Jonathan Beane doesn’t see a more diverse NFL through the lens of simply hiring more minority coaching and front office candidates. Of course that’s part of it, but Beane, the league’s Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer hired last September, casts a wider net when it comes to how the league can be more inclusive.

“How can we make sure that we have deep connections with diverse communities, not only in terms of social justice work and inspire change work, but also economic work?” Beane said in a phone interview with cleveland.com this week. “So working with diverse vendors, with everything that we do, because we’re about economic advancement.”

Beane’s goal is to be in the room in all aspects of what the NFL does to make sure the league is always thinking about diversity and inclusiveness.

Beane is in town this week to participate in a discussion about Advancing Representation of Racial Equity In Sports on Thursday from 5-5:45 p.m. The discussion is a part of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission’s Cleveland Power of Sport Summit taking place over the three days of the NFL Draft at Progressive Field and virtually.

More information about the summit and free registration is available here.

Cleveland.com spoke to Beane about how he views his job, what the NFL does well and needs to do better and how Browns GM Andrew Berry can help spur the type of hiring processes Beane would like to see in the league.

Cleveland.com: Can you just tell me about what people can expect from the panel you’re participating in this week?

Beane: Overall, I kind of see it all as one big, amazing event, celebration of sports. We’ve got the draft, we’re in one of our more storied cities during this period. So, to me, the Cleveland Power of Sports Summit is a part of that. It is the connection directly with the draft, it’s the celebration of all of sports, not just football, but also basketball, soccer, other sports as well.

And the other thing, which is so, so important, which is why I’m so happy that the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and the Cleveland Browns hosted this event — it’s about the importance of value proposition of diversity, equity and inclusion. There’s obviously a lot going on in the world and in the country, but it’s time for us to find ways to come together and have those difficult conversations, and that’s what this summit provides.

So the game of football, what does it do? It brings people together and what’s the summit going to do? It’s going to bring this all together to have great conversations to get us to move forward and heal and come together and provide a more equitable society, not only in the sports industry, but be part of the solution for the country, as well.

C: When the summit is over, what do you hope to say or to have accomplished? Obviously, I know that’s really just probably the start of something, but what do you hope that it accomplishes?

JB: The summit itself, it’s about coming up with new ideas, embracing change and really having those courageous conversations. But to me, this is one step of many. And what is really, really important is that these kinds of issues need to stay at the forefront of not only the National Football League, but the city of Cleveland, the game of football, the game of sports and society at large.

And so it’s a one-step by one-step process. And this is an important part of that. But just as we want this to create a sense of urgency and to continue the work and not have this just be a one-time event, during the time that we have the draft, which makes it convenient, that’s not what this is about. What this is is laying the groundwork of greater things to come, but also making it very clear to everybody else that the National Football League, the Cleveland Browns, the city of Cleveland is committed to this work, and we’re going to continue to be committed going forward.

C: So tell me a little bit about how you would define your role with the NFL?

JB: I would say for me, it’s a role of driving our efforts in the diversity, equity and inclusion space in everything that we do. So how can we operationalize diversity and inclusion and make it a part of how we operate every single day? What is the North Star? What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean at the NFL? What is our strategy at the NFL? What’s the qualitative and quantitative information that we need to look at? How can we continue to increase the diversity at the National Football League and at all 32 clubs? How can we enhance our culture and be more inclusive to ensure everyone has a voice? How can we do a better job of connecting to an increasingly diverse fan base which has the expectations for us to lead and not follow? How can we make sure that we have deep connections with with diverse communities, not only in terms of social justice work and inspire change work, but also economic work, so working with diverse vendors, with everything that we do, because we’re about economic advancement as well.

I touch every aspect of the organization because diversity, equity and inclusion touches all areas of our business. Whether it is here at 345 Park (Avenue at the NFL offices) in working with all of our leaders and making sure that they have their own plans and that there’s measures and there’s accountability behind it, or whether it’s working with all 32 of our clubs, whether it’s working with our employee resource groups and our employees internally, whether it’s working with our players, whether it’s working with our partners, the networks and our corporate partners that work with us. So it is connecting the dots across the board under one large mission and strategy to make sure that this is who we are, we’re branding ourselves genuinely who we are and who we hope to be.

So that, to me, it’s complex, but it is about ensuring that diversity, equity, and inclusion principles are added in all areas of our business, so it becomes simply the way that we operate on and off the field.

C: You’re casting a very wide net then. We’re not just talking about teams hiring practices. We’re talking about who teams work with off the field, we’re talking about community efforts — you mentioned social justice efforts. Have you defined that role yourself or is that what the league charged you with doing?

JB: I would say when I came in in September of last year, I think there was a general thought that I was going to be driving diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives across the enterprise. How that’s done? I think that needed to be figured out. I’m the first Chief Diversity and Inclusion officer we’ve ever had. There have been people that have had the responsibility, but haven’t had it as their full time job.

And so for me, leadership and I were kind of defining what this is from the day I walked into the office. And what I really, really am so happy about is the organization is making sure that I have a seat in the room to make sure that I can influence all areas of what we’re doing, whether it is looking at our hiring cycle, whether it is engaging with our owners directly, whether it is looking at the culture we have in each one of our offices in Los Angeles, Mount Laurel, in New York and finding how we can have a more inclusive culture, whether it is ensuring we’re working with our employee resource groups or looking at data and putting together comprehensive data reports. I have a seat in the room and I have access to everyone I need to have access to, and it’s not just a people and culture effort, it’s also very much a market and community effort as well.

C: How important is it to see teams, on that local level, like with Denver hiring (China Jude as Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion), and maybe other teams will follow suit there, how important is it to have someone in that role locally as well?

JB: I think it’s extremely important and I think what you’ll see going into the future is more and more and more of our clubs actually hiring heads of DEI, or having a situation where someone who’s already very senior in the organization also has that responsibility. So currently today, as you know, we have 32 clubs which comprise the National Football League, nine of them have a head of DEI and we’re very proud of that and we are 100 percent convinced that that number will increase because it simply is a major priority for the organization.

When we go and have our league meetings, or whether we have big internal meetings, the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion is always there. It’s fundamental to the way that we do business now.

C: Give me an example of something that you believe the league is doing really well right now.

JB: One thing that I’m really, really proud of, in the nine months that I’ve been here, is what we know and are very firm about is the values of the National Football League. So in the past, you would have some big event happen externally, or even internally, and you may not hear anything from the league office. That’s no longer the case. We’re a lot more active, especially in regards to something that we feel may go against our fundamental values. And I’ll give you an example.

We made a statement prior to the (Derek) Chauvin trial. We also made a statement after the Chauvin trial because we felt like we needed to communicate to our employees and let them know that we do understand the difficulty of the environment of that situation. We also made a statement about the really horrific AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) violence that has occurred over the last 15 months, and we felt we just had to make a statement because that is something that was critical to what was going on in society, and we wanted to use our platform to ensure that everyone knew that we stand in full solidarity with the AAPI community and that we want to use the platform to find a way, find solutions to ensure that this violence is stopped.

So, to then summarize that, I think our communications internally and externally, about issues that are critical to our values, I think we’ve done a very good job of that.

C: So what’s something that, right now, you think the league could to do better?

JB: I think we need to do everything better and faster. And this is something that I’m challenged with every day. We always want to make sure that you sit back, you analyze, you see where opportunities are and you appropriately address them. But due to the fact that we are the largest sports league in this country and one of the largest in the world, and due to the fact that we want to lead and not follow, I think it’s important for us to move and move quickly and make an impact as soon as possible.

So, I like the fact that we have created that foundation, we have a strategic plan, our leaders within the league office have plans, every one of the 32 clubs, has a DEI plan. We also have data, qualitative and quantitative, to support what we’re doing. We also have really made huge efforts to create leadership development programs, and have DEI training on allyship, unconscious bias and inclusive leadership, all of those things that we’re supposed to be doing but we need to find a way to do them even faster. Because the sense of urgency is there and we want to be the leader, and in order for us to lead, we’re going to have to be quick, agile, and make an impact as soon as possible.

And that goes for the same thing with the hiring cycle. We’re constantly looking at the Rooney Rule. We’re constantly looking at other ways to provide access and opportunities for coaches and front office personnel to compete equitably for opportunities. So we’re looking at it across the board in all areas. And, for me, I just wish we could move faster, but I also know that this work is very difficult, it’s complex, and sometimes it’s a marathon, not a sprint, but I would prefer for it to be a sprint.

Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry walks onto the field during warm ups before the game against the Indianapolis Colts. Joshua Gunter, cleveland.com

C: So I want to go back to the hiring cycle, because I wanted to just spin this a little bit in regards to the Browns and, of course, Andrew Berry is the GM. He’s been one of the fastest rising stars in the league for a while now. He’s 34 years old. I believe he’s still the youngest GM in the NFL. He was here a few years ago and then the Browns brought him back.

In terms of representation, how important is it for the league to have someone like Andrew Berry, who is young, who has climbed the ladder, who is now the face of, let’s be honest, one of the organizations that probably is going to be front-and-center in the 2021 NFL season? How important is it to have someone like him reach where he’s at for the league and your diversity efforts?

JB: Absolutely critical. Andrew Berry already has a storied career in the NFL. How many people have the opportunity to be a part of an organization, leave that organization, go somewhere else and then get pulled back in, and especially being pulled back in as the general manager, it shows his skill and leadership, and to have someone who is black in a critical role like a general manager role for a club like the Cleveland Browns, which is certainly on the uprise right now and doing very well, one, it speaks to his abilities and his excellence. And when we’re able to see that as an example of excellence in leadership, and also, by the way, happens to be someone who is black and a person of color, it is immensely critical.

Often, we have to explain the importance of why we need diversity in organizations to optimize your performance, but it really makes it quite easy when you already see it, and you’re performing at the highest level.

And we saw the same thing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, right? So you see all of their coordinators are black. And you have two females as part of the staff. You have one of the most diverse staffs in all football and they’re Super Bowl champions. That just shows the power of diversity and inclusion.

You need diversity and inclusion to get the performance. And when you have that, which is what the Browns have and what Tampa Bay has, look at what you get. So, to me, not only from the micro perspective, but the macro perspective, it just shows the power of when you fully utilize diverse talents and you give them the opportunity to show everyone what they bring to the table, you will likely get excellence across the board. He’s a great example of that.

C: Is that where the pipeline can really be built up for a more diverse NFL down the road, when he is able to be intentional about hiring diverse candidates? You mentioned Bruce Arians, they’re intentional about hiring diverse candidates. Is building that pipeline ultimately what changes what we see on NFL sidelines and in NFL front offices down the road?

JB: Absolutely, because, look, without being put in a GM role or something similar to it, how is somebody then even going to be considered right? So the fact that Andrew is positioning other people to have the opportunity to one day, potentially, be in his seat and to get the experience and to have the success they’re currently having is invaluable.

But I think something that’s really, really important, Andrew is showing the leadership by ensuring that he’s finding the best talent possible out there, who happens to be diverse as well, to be in a position like that, to have the opportunity to then go into a GM role in the future. But all GMs, all coaches should be looking that way and should have that mindset. So it’s not just a diverse GM that is then looking to be an advocate and mentor to someone, and bring them in and give them the experience, but all coaches and all GMs and all leaders should be looking that way, because that is the only way that we truly get to equity and an opportunity for everyone.

It’s also leaving a lot on the table if we don’t do that, because as we know, talent comes from a lot of different places and I hope to see, not only more people of color in those positions to be able to go to higher levels, but also more women as well.

C: And as part of that, as Andrew Berry has success, as he builds his tree, if you want to call it that, is part of that maybe some owners going to the people in charge of hiring or looking at themselves and saying, ‘Hey, why did we miss this guy? What are we doing wrong?’

JB: Yeah, I completely agree.

I think something that has added an additional opportunity here is technology. So one thing that we realized is a lot more diverse candidates were given interviews than typically occurs for a position. And there’s a lot of background noise. So what we saw this year is Zoom allowed more clubs to interview more candidates for their roles.

So what happened was, we had a lot more candidate interviews, and we had a lot more diverse candidate interviews for these positions, which then provided more opportunity for someone who may originally have been number eight of the 10 people on the list and moved up because they were so impressive in the interview, who may not have even gotten an interview before.

And then what we also have is the creation of a database. And that is talent and coaching and front office talent at the college level and also in the National Football League, where there are people who are amazing, but they’re stuck in roles where they don’t get a lot of attention and notoriety, and the only way that you can really find them is the database. So we have a couple of hires that came out of early identification through the database that we have.

C: You talked about wanting things to move faster. How close right now is the league to where you ultimately envision it?

JB: I am someone, and I’m not skirting your question, but I will always not be happy where we are.

So I believe in a concept, they call it Kaizen, and what that means is you’re continually improving and you should never be satisfied where you are, because there’s always a way to get better. And I will tell you, and everyone will tell you, we’re not even close to what we envision, but also I will tell you, we will never be, because we want to be the standard bearer and we want to be the leader in this industry and we have a lot of work to do in all areas in order to do that.

I don’t think I’m going to be satisfied for a while and I don’t know if I ever will because I think that there’s a lot of work to be done in the space, not only in the National Football League but in every organizational environment, whether it’s philanthropy, whether it’s sports, whether it’s media, whether in every corporate environment, so there’s lots of work that needs to get done.

But I think what’s really important, and what I feel really good about, is we need to have the foundation, we have to have the clarity of purpose, we have to have the clarity of what we’re going to do, who’s going to do it, when we’re going to do it, what’s the outcome, across the board as an organization, on a macro level, and on a micro level. And once we’re aligned in purpose, I’ll at least feel — I’ll be at ease. But then, to me, that’s just the beginning of us going to the next level.

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