Hello, Hike it Baby friends! I am Jessica Carrillo Alatorre, Executive Director of Hike it Baby. You can read more about me and my history with Hike it Baby here. I want to share with you the background on Hike it Baby’s journey in understanding and incorporating equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) practices in our work.
Leave No Family Behind
As you may be aware, Shanti Hodges, our founder, started this organization with the intent that we welcome and include all families. Leave no family behind was one of the first statements that defined Hike it Baby as an organization. It started as a meaningful practice on the trail, ensuring no one was left behind while changing a diaper, feeding their kiddo, tying their shoe, or taking their time to let their postpartum body get used to a new activity. It soon grew beyond the trails to include meeting the needs of all families no matter their backgrounds, races, ethnicities, physical abilities, sexual orientations, genders, relationships, ages, sizes, shapes, languages and more. Being inclusive and welcoming is important to creating a flourishing community.
It seems like a no brainer in a lot of ways, but the world we live in is complicated. As an organization, we’re trying to build communities across North America, and often those communities have their own unique personalities and needs to consider. We began asking ourselves how to create a basic set of guidelines and support tools to help ourselves and our ambassadors grow more welcoming HiB communities wherever they were.
Recognizing the Need for Change
We want to hold ourselves to a higher standard and inspire authentic change. We acknowledge just saying we welcome everyone is not enough; we have to make real invitations as well. We have grown tremendously, reaching over 350 cities in just a few short years. We’re trying to build an entire organization around the ideas of community, the outdoors, and supporting families with babies and young children.
When we look at our organization with a bird’s eye perspective, we don’t always see a lot of diversity or variety among the people who join us on our hikes. HiB communities don’t always reflect the makeup of their local communities. Towns with over 50% black populations may have a HiB branch that has never had a black person join one of their hikes. As a leadership team and as a board of directors, we didn’t feel like we were demonstrating the welcoming, no family left behind representation we wanted Hike it Baby to reflect. We also hear a lot from you, our community members, about not always feeling welcome. Or seeing our own organization’s social media posts not reflect the diversity that makes your families feel like they belong on a hike with us. With those kinds of observations, we knew we needed to make some big changes.
Trial & Error
We have done a lot of trial and error along the way. We are by no means experts. Our staff is a small team of part-time people who are passionate about the organization they work for. They don’t get paid a lot, but they give everything of themselves in every way they can. Most are also busy parents, trying to juggle working from home with their family’s needs. Our board is also made up of mostly parents, everyone has a full-time job in addition to the hours they contribute to Hike it Baby (meaning they volunteer significant time to help us do our work in addition to supporting our governance). Everyone loves this organization so much and wants to make it the very best it can be.
But as I said, we aren’t experts.
Our effort to form a Community Values team, composed of volunteers, with the intent of helping identify and address problem areas was unsuccessful for multiple reasons. We did not establish the purpose of this team clearly for ourselves or our volunteer participants. We also didn’t do the work we needed to understand what we were trying to address, how we could accomplish change, or how it aligned with our overall mission. At the time, our mission was still fluid and our purpose was a little different to each person you asked. It led to little action and A LOT of frustration.
Hike it Baby Mission, Vision & Values
We knew we could be better and that we needed help, so we added new board members who could bring experience and focus to our EDI approach. We learned we needed to start with centering our mission, vision, and values (MVV) in a way that prioritized EDI as a central part of our efforts. We held our first face-to-face board meeting and strategy session in September 2018. It was the first time we had made any attempt to centralize our definitions of HiB and our long term place in the world. From that meeting, we developed our updated MVV and the beginnings of our first 3-year strategic plan. Both centered EDI as key elements of our work and framed them in context to the bigger picture of what role HiB serves to families who want to connect in the outdoors.
In June 2019, our board and I participated in our first training on EDI topics. James Edward Mills, an EDI educator, journalist, and outdoorsman with a long history in the industry provided a great introduction to the historical context of disparities in the outdoor world and why marginalized communities may not feel welcome in joining groups like HiB to get outside. It got our minds turning on how we could start to work within our ranks to make more concerted efforts to build communities that did more than just say they were welcoming.
We also started an organization-wide equity assessment process. We invited a variety of volunteers in an attempt to get more diverse thoughts as we completed the steps. In the end, we had staff and board members who participated. We learned a lot and identified five initial action item areas. These areas included drafting and posting an equity statement on our website, beginning a culture of transparent conversation and reflection around our learning and efforts, both internally and externally, revising ambassador training to become more centered around our mission, vision, and values, developing clear guidelines that include EDI as part of our evaluation of our external partnerships, and including EDI language in job descriptions and linking EDI related goals in staff work plans.
At this point in time, I am proud to say we have made a lot of progress in many of these areas. We have launched our new equity statement here. This blog post is our first public communication in our efforts to be more transparent about our learning and the work we’re doing. We have also created several new systems to make EDI topics a priority in our internal conversations. These include Slack channels where we share and discuss articles, podcasts, and other learning materials and a JEDI workgroup made up of staff, board members, and volunteers to help us continuously advance the work and our conversations.
As Executive Director, I have signed the Diversify Outdoors Equity Pledge for CEOs, committing myself to continue this work at HiB on a long term basis. Each department in HiB has language in its strategic goals that incorporates EDI efforts into their programs. We have been releasing content with a focus on trying to show more diverse reflections of families in the outdoors. We still have a long way to go, but this is a key focus for us and one we feel passionate about. This year, we are also working with James Mills to develop a staff training that will be the jumping-off point for our longer-term planning around implementing EDI into all of our programs, but especially community development, membership, and content.
The Future of EDI at Hike it Baby
I provide this list of examples not as a way to show you how we’re measuring up, but as a way to share our continued efforts. We fully recognize that this is not enough. We need to keep learning and working to make changes. We are messing up often. We will keep messing up. But we’re here. We’re trying. We want to do better. We invite you, our community members and supporters to help us stay accountable. Please continue to tell us when we’ve made a mistake. Please tell us how we can do better to make our space more welcoming to you. Also, because we’re only human, please tell us when we’re doing something right, too. We love hearing from you and we love your passion and commitment to making HiB the best community it can be. Together we’re raising a generation to love the outdoors AND each other!
About Hike it Baby
Hike it Baby is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to getting families outdoors and on trails across the U.S. and internationally, supporting, educating and inspiring families through their more than 300 communities across North America. Since its grassroots inception in 2013 in Portland, Oregon, Hike it Baby is now a growing community of 270,000 families and 500 volunteer branch ambassadors hosting more than 1,600 hikes per month. More information, as well as daily hike schedules, can be found at HikeitBaby.com, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Craig.