2021 has been a good year for Megan Nichols.
In early November, Regions announced that Nichols was named market executive for the Fort Smith, Arkansas, area. In this role, she works with colleagues and community members to identify opportunities for the bank to make a meaningful difference through volunteer service, nonprofit support, delivering financial education, and more.
It’s a big honor that was well deserved for the Commercial Banking relationship manager. But that wasn’t the only good news Nichols received recently.
Earlier this year, the Junior League of Fort Smith, or JLFS, where Nichols serves as Past President, received the 2021 Association of Junior Leagues International Award for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Another impressive award, and one that is particularly meaningful to Nichols.
In May of 2020, she assumed the role of JLFS President. In the throes of the pandemic, Nichols watched, as we all did, as the country faced the consequences of the murder of George Floyd and other disturbing incidences of social and racial injustice.
“A dear friend and fellow Junior League member shared a heartbreaking social media post about her own experience with racism,” Nichols said. “I was sad and hurt for her, but also alarmed that I didn’t know what she was going through. I felt like a bad friend. So, I reached out to her and asked if she could talk. I wanted and needed to know more about what it means to be a Black woman so I could help to identify my blind spots.”
If you have that feeling that you should probably stand up or speak up or fight for doing the right thing, don’t hide that feeling away.
Megan Nichols, Regions market executive for Fort Smith, Arkansas
After that pivotal conversation, she determined that as an organization “we need to do better.” JLFS was already making strides with DEI, but Nichols recognized this as an opportunity to build on that momentum and ensure JLFS is an inclusive organization where all members can be open about their life experiences and be completely accepted.
So, the Rewriting Our Narrative campaign began.
The centerpiece of the campaign is “a day in the life” video profile of JLFS members. The women wanted to take this opportunity to share who they really are and highlight their diversity — of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation — and embrace and appreciate the uniqueness and individuality of all members.
“We wanted to make sure that anyone looking at our organization could see someone that looks like them or has something in common with them,” Nichols said.
But the Rewriting Our Narrative campaign wasn’t just a slick PR stunt. Nichols was passionate about inclusivity, and she led an effort to revise the bylaws, policies and procedures to make sure any potential bias was removed and the language in the framework reflected her intent.
“To be a more effective organization, we had to build a stronger foundation,” Nichols said. “And the board of directors changes each year, so I wanted to be sure these changes were permanent.”
The campaign and the transformation of the organization took some soul-searching and a lot of work but was very gratifying for Nichols and the team. And even more so when they got word that their Rewriting Our Narrative video won two awards and a grand total of $20,000 from the parent organization, the Association of Junior Leagues International.
“We were the only chapter to win two of the 10 awards out of 291 chapters in four countries,” Nichols said. “Both awards were real honors, but the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion award was really special.”
Megan saw a need and opportunity to create change. She made it her mission to spread the word of League’s inclusion and wanted to ensure every woman knew they were welcome in League.
Alexis Brown, Fort Smith Junior League Communications Vice President
Megan’s Fort Smith Junior League colleagues are equally proud of her efforts. Alexis Brown, who serves as Communications Vice President, said, “Megan saw a need and opportunity to create change. She made it her mission to spread the word of League’s inclusion and wanted to ensure every woman knew they were welcome in League.”
Brown added, “As a person of color and member of the LGBTQ+ community, Megan pulled me aside and invited me to be a part of the message. As someone who has been turned down for opportunities because of this, I was elated that Megan reached out and wanted to include a member of a community often overlooked. Because of Megan’s hard work, leadership and determination, potential members no longer have to question if they are welcome.”
Nichols credits Regions and the work of the DEI Center of Expertise during 2020 for giving her tools and resources to do this important work. “Regions played a large role in helping me navigate and prepare for my role as president of JLFS,” Nichols said. “The Week of Understanding and other initiatives the company implemented gave me knowledge and guidance that I pulled from to have open and honest conversations and make the changes necessary in our organization.” Nichols said.
Leroy Abrahams, head of Community Affairs for Regions, said Nichols brings the bank’s mission to life.
“Megan is living Regions’ values every day and her work in the Fort Smith community makes us all proud,” Abrahams said. “I’m happy she received national recognition for these important efforts.”
So, what was Nichols’ biggest takeaway from this experience? That “we should have done something sooner.”
“If you have that feeling that you should probably stand up or speak up or fight for doing the right thing, don’t hide that feeling away,” Nichols said. “That’s how you know it’s your moment to stand up.”
Ordinarily, Nichols would have accepted the award in person at the Associate of Junior Leagues International conference, but because of the pandemic she was interviewed virtually.