his year, the Junior League of New Orleans (JLNO) is nearing a century of leadership in voluntarism and community building. With 2,100 members, JLNO is the ninth largest out of 292 leagues worldwide — an impressive feat, considering the small size of our metropolitan area. However, JLNO also has a responsibility to ensure its membership is truly representative of New Orleans’ diverse community. By breaking down barriers and actively recruiting a membership that reflects the city’s entire population, JLNO is transforming its reputation, one woman at a time.
The Association of Junior Leagues International launched a diversity and inclusion initiative several years ago. The New Orleans chapter is still in the initial stages of implementing this initiative. The first step is to define diversity. JLNO leaders outline these distinctions as race, ethnicity, religion, culture, ability, status, sexual orientation, gender expression, educational level, work status and age.
“Our city and our League are enriched by the presence of people from all of these different backgrounds and experiences,” says Ty Salvant, Diversity and Inclusion Committee (D&I) Co-Chair. “Having people from all different backgrounds brings variety in perspectives, skills and experiences that we can harness to make the organization even better.”
The committee has identified several structural changes to encourage diversity. These efforts include ensuring all religious holidays are considered when scheduling events and making headquarters accessible to those with varied ability statuses. It also involves partnering with organizations reflective of the community we serve and recruiting members from currently underrepresented groups.
One of the D&I Committee’s first initiatives has been to post conversation starters on the JLNO closed Facebook group. The aim is to acquire feedback directly from membership on how diversity efforts can be improved within the League. This guidance will help the committee provide meaningful learning opportunities targeted to the areas members are most interested.
In the near future, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee would like to see JLNO become less restrictive with regard to age and sponsorship requirements. The committee envisions incorporating intentional, well-planned and well-executed diversity and inclusion elements into every facet of JLNO operations as one of their long-term goals — from the selection of vendors to the formatting of the website.
In addition to having different types of people within the League membership, the committee also wants to ensure everyone feels welcomed and included.
“Inclusion is important because we want to be intentional about creating an environment and a culture where all different kinds of people can thrive,” Ty asserts. “Decisions are made differently when a multiplicity of perspectives are involved.”
Creating a more welcoming environment involves challenging preconceptions that have created barriers to inclusivity and diversity within the organization. Kathryn Albayrak, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee Vice-Chair, admits she was unsure what to expect when a friend encouraged her to join the League.
Fortunately, the informational meeting Kathryn attended challenged many of her assumptions.
“While I did encounter some small barriers to joining, such as the sponsor requirement, these ended up being much more minor that I was anticipating,” she adds. “This is my second active year, and since joining, I have seen several positive efforts to expand diversity and inclusion within JLNO. I’m encouraged that JLNO values the importance of diversity and inclusion and will continue that forward momentum.”
Diversity and inclusion is a top priority for current League President, Christine Vinson. She believes if you identify as a woman and support the League’s mission you should feel confident as a member. She acknowledges misconceptions about the organization have posed a barrier to diversity. Since JLNO’s mission is to help our community, Christine feels strongly that our members should be representative of our community, pointing to The League’s newly rebranded campaign, Women Leading for A Greater New Orleans, as evidence of the vision women from different backgrounds share for our city.
“I think that people would be impressed by the class today,” Christine says. “Just eyeballing the room at meetings, it’s more diverse than I’ve ever seen it in the past.”
Still, Christine admits there is more work to do to change that perception in the rest of the community. Because JLNO has only recently embarked on this journey towards diversity and inclusion as compared to other Junior League chapters, the effort will understandably take time to build and execute; however, League leaders are optimistic about the possibilities.
“As the League reflects on its past and envisions its future, opportunities to increase our representation of the community are paramount. With this determined focus on diversity and inclusion, JLNO is enacting meaningful steps to both promote and project the inviting spirit of the city we serve.”