Stuart Hindmarsh on Allyship and Leadership
Stuart Hindmarsh is a partner in the Corporate Group in Kutak Rock’s Rogers office. Along with Winnie Hawkins, he’s co-chair of the firm’s National Inclusiveness and Diversity Committee (NIDC).
I started on the NIDC around 2015 because inclusiveness and diversity has been important to me for a long time, and I had never done that kind of work other than being somebody who believes in the goals of diversity and inclusiveness.
"I had opportunity to be on the NIDC, and I was excited because it’s something I’ve been interested in since joining the firm, but never had the time or made the time to do early on in my career. After being on the committee for five years, there was an opportunity to become co-chair.”
Stuart says he didn’t hesitate to step into the role of co-chair when asked. “I did it because after going through my journey of being interested but not having the time, then making the time and being on the committee, I saw a unique opportunity to lead the firm’s efforts, along with my co-chair, and help direct our efforts toward lasting progress. It really seemed like the next logical step in my own work and journey as a believer and builder in the diversity and inclusiveness space.
It’s something that’s so important to me and really speaks to my heart. I get to combine something that’s a closely held core belief of mine with my work at the firm in a new way.
Stuart has very specific reasons for holding diversity and inclusiveness as core values. “Growing up and living in the South and being a white male, I've seen first-hand and benefitted from an environment with few opportunities for persons of color. There’ve been a lot of changes even in my own lifetime, but you observe inequities and injustices and things that are just fundamentally unfair with respect to the lack of diversity or the reinforcement of existing power structures or systems that discriminate or are biased against various diverse groups. It’s something that I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve always been somebody who’s very much concerned with justice and fairness.
“I have a lot of diversity in my family. I have LGBTQ family members, Black family members, Hispanic/Latinx family members, native family members, and they’re the people I care most about. They need allies.
I’ve really tried to work very hard at being a better ally and being somebody who makes diversity and inclusion part of what they do in their everyday life.
This, he says, is one of the things he brings to the NIDC. “As an ally, I think I bring a different perspective to the NIDC as opposed to being a member of any one of those diverse groups. Allyship is critical to what we’re doing as a firm, and for me personally."
I honestly think it’s a revolution in that we have reached a turning point. Now is the time to examine—and re-examine—our systems and structures, eliminate barriers and create equal opportunities for everyone. There is no more turning a blind eye to inequality.
“The firm’s progress advancing diversity and inclusiveness is only possible because of the commitment of the Executive Committee and the work of our NIDC staff who collect statistical data, implement training programs and so much more. I am thankful for the support from these groups. Our clients know that diversity is about more than hiring numbers. It is about developing attorneys over the course of their careers. That is the kind of inclusiveness Kutak Rock is committed to providing.”
In addition to her tax practice and co-chair responsibilities, Winnie has also become one of several facilitators for a new firmwide anti-racism program at Kutak Rock centered around psychologist and professor Dolly Chugh’s book, The Person You Mean to Be. “In preparation for that we had to learn how to facilitate. I don’t have facilitation experience, so our director of Inclusiveness and Diversity has provided practice sessions and tools to bring people back to the center after hearing an odd remark, and techniques to give everyone a voice.
“A number of learning moments have arisen during our book club discussions. Everyone has different and valuable perspectives.
I believe it is critical to educate yourself. Talk and listen to others.
“There are numerous books that can teach us about how to talk about these important issues, and what we can do to make a difference every single day. It’s not just the big things that create change. It’s really the small things we do every day that make a huge difference.
“Hopefully Dolly Chugh’s book will help people think about their role and responsibility to eliminate racism in our society and act intentionally. We can create a more inclusive environment that allows people to come to work and be comfortable with who they are and not try to fit into another person’s mold of what they ‘should’ sound like, act like or look like.”
Diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace weren’t always issues Winnie felt comfortable tackling. “When I started at the firm directly out of law school, I realized I needed to focus on my practice, so there was a period of time when I was simply a supporter of inclusiveness, diversity, and engagement initiatives and not a leader.
"I wanted to prove myself as a hard-working and competent attorney within the firm to build trust among my colleagues. Then I could start contributing more time to areas outside of my practice.
“One of the best experiences I had when I initially stepped beyond the Tax Credit world was as co-chair of the Professional Development Committee during its inaugural year. That experience allowed me to lead an amazing group of individuals committed to bringing people up. I also had the chance to introduce myself to firm leadership. I first wanted exposure within the firm that wasn’t specifically diversity-related, so people saw me as more than just a minority person working on diversity initiatives.
“At the end of my term as co-chair of the NIDC, I want the firm to look like it does today: diligent, smart, accepting. Eliminating more and more of the barriers in our systems."
I see Kutak Rock becoming a recognized leader in the anti-racism movement among law firms.
“We can achieve the three-year strategic goals we put in place, even though there are some lofty ones. It is going to be a lot of work to move the goals and tactics forward, and it takes everyone, from bottom to top. It is not a check-the-box exercise. It is not a top-down directive. As I said before, it is the everyday actions and decisions of every member of our firm that will bring us forward to meet our goals.”