I was VERY nervous when I walked into the Acxiom for my interview with Catherine Hughes. That anxiety was only further heightened when I was asked for some form of ID — which I’d conveniently left at home. In the process of practically begging the security guard to let me up, Catherine came down the elevator and saved me from further embarrassment.
We settled down in her office in surprisingly comfy office chairs — which we all know are hard to come by — and I thought, “Man, this is where I want to end up.” Catherine has been with Acxiom for 28 years — let me say that again, 28 years!
Name: Catherine Hughes Location: Little Rock, Arkansas Job Title: Corporate Governance Officer at Acxiom Corporation Educational Background: BA Political Science and Philosophy, J.D. Law
Catherine grew up in a military family and had four big moves — from Mississippi to Japan — all before the age of 6. After active duty her father became a lawyer, which had a huge impact on Catherine’s life.
The closest thing I can relate her story to is that of the role of Scout Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. She grew up in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s when civil rights was a big issue — not to mention they were living in Mississippi at the time. Like Scout, Catherine was the daughter of the local lawyer who stood up and defended the misjudged and mistreated. Catherine proudly told me that her parents inspired her to stand up for the less fortunate and be aware of people who have less.
In the late ‘60s, women still hadn’t gotten the recognition in the workplace that they deserved. Catherine says she didn’t know that women could be anything but a school teacher or secretary until she was in college — which is so crazy for me to think about today. “I’m sure growing up my image was I would get married, have five kids, be driving a station wagon, and be supported by my husband,” she told me. Well, that sure as hell didn’t happen.
In high school, like most of us, Catherine had a couple of teachers who pushed her out of her comfort zone for the better. The most influential of her teachers was her senior English teacher. Catherine characterized her as “brilliant” and “very inspiring.” She also added that her love for reading and writing developed in this class.
It wasn’t until her senior year of college that Catherine actually realized that she could be more than a stay-at-home mom (but nothing against stay-at-home moms, they rock and I commend them for dealing with children all day long). She said that once she abandoned that mindset she felt like she could be anything she wanted to be.
Early on in her career, she clerked for the first female judge in Arkansas: Elsie Roy. This job was really impactful because Catherine had never known a professionally successful woman before — her mom was successful in creating a happy home, but she’d never seen a female boss before. Catherine called Elsie a “pioneer” who showed her that success was possible.
After getting her J.D., Catherine went to work at Rose Law Firm, where she rubbed shoulders with some big hitters — namely Hillary Clinton. She was one of five females working for the company at the time, and it was a big deal to even be considered for the position. Catherine said that all the women supported each other and weren’t mean or biting, which gave her a good foundation for the rest of her career.
What I Learned From Catherine
Catherine is a fearless go-getter. Before talking with her, I’d never really thought about how far women have come from having little to no opportunities to sitting in corner offices. I’ve never even considered the idea of staying at home and letting my husband provide for me, and what Catherine made me realize is that I don’t have to worry about that because of trailblazing women who fought for my rights.