In the 2018-2019 Junior League year, the Junior League of Los Angeles is embracing diversity and inclusion now more than ever. As an organization that impacts individuals and families from a variety of socioeconomic, educational, and cultural backgrounds, we not only have the privilege but also the responsibility to expand our way of thinking to better lead through our wide-reaching service efforts.
In line with this heightened focus, JLLA has formed a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Task Force. In the words of Task Force and Board of Directors member Joy Williams, “the key objective [of the Task Force] is to train, educate, and empower our members, leaders, and staff who can effectively contribute to an ever-changing world and improve our community through voluntarism. It is essential that we bring together a diverse community to realize the community’s full promise, and to foster transformation and to work affirmatively and collectively to advance a culture of belonging.” As Joy also noted: “Locally, diversity and inclusion is a strategic priority for our president, Karla Sayles…[who] appointed four members from her board to the task force to advance our mission, achieve the strategic outcomes in our five-year strategic plan, and to develop and implement a D&I plan by 2019-2020.”
Through embracing our differences, we can engage in a richer dialogue with the communities in which we live and volunteer. Kicking off this year’s first General Meeting, Kimberly Freeman (Associate Dean and Chief Diversity Officer for the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, & Sciences) reinforced why diversity and inclusion are so critical. Taking us through a group exercise, we shared experiences and uncovered biases some of us did not even know we had. It is important to note that diversity and inclusion represent two very different pieces of the puzzle. As Dr. Freeman explained – “diversity is being asked to the party, but inclusion is being asked to dance.”
The D&I Task Force remains committed to working alongside other JLLA committees to provide varied and highly relevant training opportunities for our members. This year JLLA offered its first-ever Spanish-language training. Led by Shauna Dunnigan Ransom, this training helped all attendees better understand common phrases. The phrases were chosen to be especially helpful when reading to children at events with our community partners such as The People Concern and The Children’s Bureau. Los Angeles County also has the highest population of Spanish speakers in the United States. There are 50 million individuals in the United States for whom Spanish is their first or second language, and 28% of the population of California speaks Spanish as their primary language at home.
It is not enough that we simply recognize diversity, but rather ensure that every individual is asked to dance. That way, everyone can enjoy the party! We are fortunate to be part of an organization that embraces, supports, and inspires all women – regardless of their background. In conclusion, Joy captured it best: “…the founder of The Junior League, Mary Harriman, believed that we all bear the responsibility to learn about the world around us in order to be more effective in our desire to improve it; that we should really try to understand the ‘why’ behind something, not just superficially give it lip service. Therefore, we must strive within our organization to live up to our commitment to diversity and inclusion and achieve equity. We want our organization to reflect the community we serve, [and] we also want to make sure that we are recruiting and retaining a diverse and inclusive membership and leadership and we want to commit to diversity and inclusion as a critical component of a sustainable organization.”