Susie Carlson on the Meaning of Family
Susie Carlson is a legal secretary in Omaha and co-chair of the firm’s LGBTQIA + Allies Affinity Group. To her, family is everything, whether it’s the family who adopted her, friends who have become family, or her work family at Kutak Rock.
I was adopted as a baby, and I always feel like I got the perfect family,” she says. “I’m very proud of my South Dakota small-town family. They’re very loving and accepting and that’s just who they are. I think my friends and family are proud of me for being involved in the affinity group. They enjoy hearing about what our group has accomplished and I think it helps them feel supportive.
In a way, the LGBTQIA + Allies affinity group is also a close-knit family. “I think we have a good dynamic. We can vent, we can laugh, we can cry, we can yell, and we’re all here for each other. I feel like I’m able to be an advocate for not only the people I love, but the people I work with and in the community both here and outside the firm. It feels like I’m throwing my action behind my words and what I believe in.”
As with any family, the group takes pride in its accomplishments. “Getting the HRC 100% score was a big milestone,” she says. The affinity group also passes on knowledge to the rest of the firm family. “We had a teaching moment in our videoconference presentation to the firm on the Masterpiece Cake case ruling by the Supreme Court. I hope we can do a lot more of those presentations.” As co-chair, Susie is in a position to help make that happen. “I see it as a great opportunity. I like the possibilities we have to expand our horizons. It’s a really good tool.”
Even the closest families have conflicts from time to time, but Kutak Rock’s founders and leadership found ways to help preserve the peace. “I’ve heard that most law firms don’t allow their staff to participate in affinity groups,” she says, “and I think it’s ironic they’re putting that limit on their affinity groups when the staff should be treated equally and with respect, like Bob Kutak and Harold Rock insisted.”
Your job title does not diminish any ideas or value that you bring to the group.
After 18 years at the firm, Susie would know. “I was Mr. Rock’s secretary when I got hired, and interacting with him every day, I just knew this was a good place, everyone was treated with respect, and Bob Kutak and Harold Rock were trailblazers in their day by hiring talented and diverse people. They practiced what they preached.” Susie says that in some ways the firm has remained the same, but it’s also much improved. “When I first started, I knew within a week that Mr. Rock lived inclusiveness and diversity and respect and equality for everybody. It was made clear that the founders prioritized inclusiveness, respect and equality. They focused on the people and their talents, which was a big change from where I was previously employed. The firm’s priority grew even more when a national diversity director was hired and we created the affinity groups. It was a natural progression for the firm and now we have so many opportunities.” Now that Mr. Rock is no longer here with us, we have a special and important task to continue and honor the incredible legacy he and Mr. Kutak gave us.
Everybody can bring something to the table.
Susie had a very good reason for joining the LGBTQIA + Allies group as soon as the affinity groups were created. “I got involved in the affinity group because I have loved ones who are gay, people who are very dear to me.” One of those loved ones helped bring about a unique moment for Susie, one that cemented them as family.
“I was able to come full circle when I traveled to Central America with one of my best friends. He and his partner were adopting a baby and I was the godmother who went along so we could try and get the adoption finalized. We were in the U.S. embassy and they called my friend’s name to come to the window as the adoptive parent of this little boy. It was a very emotional moment for me because it hit me in that second that that’s how my parents felt when they were adopting me. It’s one of my biggest blessings.”