Amber Hikes forges a new path at the ACLU
by Kassaundra Shanette Lockhart
To be labeled as a trailblazer, one must possess certain characteristics: perseverance, courage, self-confidence, hope, passion and determination. Longtime BEQ Pride readers know that Amber Hikes embodies the term and in her new role, she continues to blaze a trail for diversity, inclusion, equity and intersectionality.
After serving two and a half years as the Executive Director of LGBTQ Affairs at the Philadelphia Mayor’s office, Hikes was recently named the first Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). It is a life-changing opportunity, not just for Hikes but for those she hopes to impact through her work.
“It’s extraordinarily significant for an organization like the ACLU, with its size, history and legacy, to be turning our focus to the priority of fostering a more equitable culture for the folks who are doing this crucial work during a very challenging time in our country’s history,” Hikes said.
The time to make the shift for Hikes was ideal. Citing “the transformative engagement and policy work that was uplifting and gratifying” during her time at the mayor’s office, she recalled the difficulties that also accompanied the position. Calling it “emotionally and spiritually challenging,” Hikes noted that a significant portion of her work in Philadelphia dealt with situations rooted in criminal justice reform, law enforcement, discrimination, homelessness, violence and even death. Joining the ACLU’s leadership team was a natural progression for a woman whose purpose is rooted in building an equitable future for all.
“If I’m being candid, I didn’t even know this kind of work existed,” she said. “I always knew that I was going to be helping folks build community. Or that I was going to find ways for celebration and joy to be part of challenging work but I didn’t know how that was going to take shape. What’s brilliant is that I’ve been afforded the opportunity to help adapt our changing world and environment through this tremendous workplace.”
When discussing diversity and inclusion, Hikes stressed the importance of understanding the difference between the two concepts.
“We know diversity is having voices at the table and inclusion is making sure you’re using those voices to inform how you do business and make decisions,” she stated. “Our commitment must always be to practice this work from an equitable and inclusive lens. Our activist and organizing communities remind us, ‘No decision about us without us.”
To ensure this is what’s reflected at the ACLU, Hikes has developed short- and long-term goals. Eager to get things going, she is working to develop more equitable working policies and provide anti-oppression training throughout the organization. She’s also keyed in on professional development opportunities through capacity building work with an emphasis on people and communities who are directly impacted by the ACLU’s core issues.
“For the ACLU, at this particular time we’re fighting battles on countless fronts, and all of our issues impact communities that have experienced historical oppression and marginalization. It’s essential for an organization that’s doing external social justice and civil liberties work to be looking inward at how the people who are doing that work are being impacted,” said Hikes. “We’re looking not just at what is going on in the broader world but also how engagement with that work could be impacting employees here in their work and in their personal lives.”
Focusing on the workplace is a high priority for Hikes. Her work at the ACLU is focused on bringing “a culture of belonging” to the organization in service of those who are marginalized.
In a conversation with screenwriter Lena Waithe at the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in October, Hikes spoke eloquently about the need to support and provide leadership opportunities for those who are marginalized.
“We desperately need a future where the leadership in all sectors more accurately reflects the diversity of the world we live in,” she said. “I have come to realize that if we are not focusing surgically on our capacity building and investing intentionally in our future leadership being diverse, inclusive, equitable and intersectional, we are not only failing ourselves, we are failing our future.”'We desperately need a future where the leadership in all sectors more accurately reflects the diversity of the world we live in.' @amberhikes | BEQ Pride Click To Tweet
Through her leadership Hikes set a D&I vision for the organization where people who show up for this work “feel appreciated for their myriad contributions to this organization” and are comfortable bringing their full, authentic selves to work. To further achieve this objective, focus groups are being developed to establish a culture statement for the soon to be century-old non-profit.
“I couldn’t think of any greater honor than to join the ACLU at this time as we seek to hold ourselves internally to the same values we amplify externally,” she said. “We recognize that we have a collective responsibility to do so – this work is not done in a vacuum, especially as we embark on large scale systemic change.”
Amber Hikes, a member of the inaugural class BEQ Pride 40 LGBTQ Leaders Under 40 in 2018, continues to blaze the trail and lead the way toward an equitable future.