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Jonathan Beane '88 Leads Diversity, Inclusion Efforts for EHS and the NFL

Early this year, Jonathan Beane ’88 received a call from a recruiter for the NFL. The league wanted to hire a chief diversity and inclusion officer, she said, and she thought he would be a very strong candidate and would like to have a discussion about the role.

Beane, a 20-year veteran of diversity and inclusion work at Time Warner (now WarnerMedia), 21st Century Fox, and other brand-name corporations, spent the whole weekend in preparation for the interview, reviewing the latest league news and what he would do in the role and eventually producing a four-page memo. The former Episcopal football standout and Dartmouth College wide receiver saw the opportunity as a dream job. “I love the NFL,” he says. “I've been a fan since I was four. And there are societal issues going on with the NFL that I am dying to get involved in.”

Beane started with the NFL last week. At the same time, he’s bringing his talents and skills (he has a law degree, a master’s in tax law, and an MBA) to another institution that’s close to his heart: Episcopal High School. A member of the School’s Board of Trustees, he is leading the EHS Task Force on Racism, Understanding, and Belonging, a 15-member group of trustees and School leaders that began work this summer on wide-ranging efforts to help Episcopal actively combat racism and do more to ensure that all students feel a strong sense of belonging at the School. Over time, the task force will examine all elements of school life — including  curriculum, hiring, professional development, and admissions — for structural racism.  

Beane has been particularly involved in the series of listening forums with Black alumni and current families, and he is working with others to launch a Black alumni network for the School. His dedication to the work draws on more than his loyalty to the School: His two children, Anani ’24 and Jonathan ’24, began classes at the School last week. “I’m invested here not only as an alumnus but also as a parent,” he says.

The roots of his interest in diversity and inclusion work
My mom’s an educator, and my dad’s an orthodontist. He actually was the first Black orthodontist in North Carolina. I grew up in a relatively religious family, and my parents taught me that you should look up to those who serve others. Growing up, while other people were going to the beach and doing other fun stuff in the summer, I was in different towns doing volunteer work every single day for at least half of every summer. It might have been on a Native American reservation in South Dakota, or in Pahokee, Fla., a really poor sugar-cane town. It was all about service, service, service, service. 

Even in my first job, at Johnson Controls, though I wasn’t in a diversity and inclusion role, I was still doing that kind of work. I think I knew in my heart that I was going into D&I work even before my mind did. 

On change in the corporate approach to diversity and inclusion 
When I started, it was very rudimentary. Companies were just beginning to say that it’s something we need to focus on. Early efforts were often just about putting together a scorecard and showing it once a year to the board of directors and to the CEO: this is how many women and people of color you have. It was very, very basic and focused just on gender and race and ethnicity. There wasn’t any discussion of issues around inclusion, belonging, anti-racism, cultural competency, intersectionality, or inclusive leadership. It was very much a “check the box” effort and compliance approach. 

We have seen a dramatic evolution, and the areas of focus are much broader now. We're looking at sexual orientation, gender identity, generational differences, experience, and concepts like allyship — how can someone be an ally for another group? 

And we're looking at ways a leader should act. When I came into the corporate world, most leaders were seen as tough; if you yelled at people and acted with aggression, people put you in the role of a leader. Today, that is seen as a weakness, and I believe D&I has helped redefine what it means to be a leader. Being a leader now means that you’re empathetic, that you’re inclusive, culturally competent, and empower people beyond yourself.

On Episcopal’s listening forums with Black alumni and current families
They bring back memories. When someone talks about the experiences they had two years ago or five years ago or 20 years ago, I’ve had some of those same experiences. In fact, I had buried some of those memories, but when I hear someone else’s story, they come back — “Oh my gosh… I remember having that feeling!” 

It is frustrating that we still have diverse students — and, I would say, especially diverse women — who have a tough time and experience constant microaggressions. By the time they graduate, there can be a lot of resentment and anger. They’re frustrated, and they feel a lack of belonging, a lack of voice.

What's interesting is that they love the school as much as anybody else. So just because you may have experienced hurtful things, you can still love the School and believe in its ideals. I've heard that love. The School is engaged in a healing process right now, and that’s only going to make it stronger. 

On working with students to create a campus culture of belonging
The kids are still figuring out who they are. They’re going to make mistakes and say things that might not be appropriate. So we have to create an environment where students can be psychologically safe from things that are perhaps hurtful. We want to create an environment in which everyone is welcomed and allowed to be themselves.

But at the same time, we want an environment where disagreement is accepted, where different points of view are welcomed. So our job is to create that balance. We want these kids to grow their awareness, find out who they are, become critical thinkers, and develop intellectual and moral courage. Yet at the same time, we don’t want to be so restrictive that people feel like they can’t be themselves.

On the task force’s examination of prejudice inherent in School structures
The remit of the task force is to work with the School’s administration and faculty to examine all ways that EHS can be more inclusive, welcoming, and equitable. When most people talk about these issues, we tend to focus on the individual, which is important, but there are also structural barriers to creating an inclusive environment as well. These would include the structures that exist in what I call the “student lifecycle,” which would be recruitment, admissions, financial aid, curriculum, college counseling, etc. Each of these areas is critical to a student’s experience at the School.

EHS is committed to a deep examination of all those areas of the School, and we’re going to enlist an outside perspective to help with those audits, bringing in a consultant with expertise in just this sort of work. I look forward to digging into that.

On the task force’s broader work
I'm convinced that we'll get there. I truly believe in the human spirit, that human beings are inherently good and inherently love each other. If somebody's hurting, our natural reaction is to help them.

But it's going to take some work. And the process is going to be messy. It's not going to be nice and clear and structured like it can be in a corporate environment. But the messiness is how you get to the right place. When I've seen it work, it's the best feeling in the world.
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