Drew Marlar is a public finance and housing partner in Atlanta. He joined Kutak Rock in the late ’90s and for some that was just yesterday. For others, it feels like a lifetime ago. This is especially true when the unit of measurement is how far we’ve come in establishing equal rights.
The firm has always been a very welcoming place, but I’ve seen it become even more so, especially in the last five years.
“I wouldn’t say I felt this way when I first arrived in 1999 for a couple reasons. When I got here, it was just a different time. It’s a conservative profession. When I went to the first holiday party with my partner at the time, other people had brought their partners, too. I realized I was walking into a firm culture that was already accepting. Everyone made us feel very comfortable.”
Since then, Drew says the firm has progressed light years. “We’ve gotten beyond, ‘Are people feeling comfortable?’ to really helping people engage and feel heard and included.
It’s a great place for us to be right now. We just need to keep going and keep up the momentum.
“There’s been this openness and I think a big part of it is our diversity and inclusiveness director’s influence with pushing these efforts as part of the strategic planning process and getting in front of the Executive Committee as many times as we do.”
Drew also credits the firm’s affinity groups for making people feel like they’ve got somebody in the firm with whom they can connect. As a member and former chair of the LGBTQIA + Allies Affinity Group, Drew has had a front-row seat. “I’ve seen people ‘come out of the closet,’ for lack of a better phrase.” The group worked to make sure the firm met all of Human Right’s Campaign’s (HRC) criteria for a 100% score on their Corporate Equality Index. “That was really big for me,” he says. “I didn’t really know the index existed until a few years ago, but then we made it a goal.”
When HRC added the availability of transgender benefits to their criteria, Drew says the firm was completely on board. “I had to educate myself on transgender benefits and transgender issues. It was something new to me, but I brought the issue to leadership and they were fully supportive.”
Last year Drew became co-chair of the firm’s National Inclusiveness and Diversity Committee. He still echoes what he believed as an affinity group leader.
“This isn’t feeling like a numbers game. It’s really an honest effort to make everyone feel included and heard, and have opportunities for support.”
Drew says the firm’s culture of inclusiveness recently came into play in a very practical way. “I just went and met with a potential lateral candidate and I was able to speak from the heart and tell him that we aren’t doing this just because clients demand it. We believe in it as a group and as a firm. It’s important to us to create an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere. We’re definitely on the right path.”