Insurance Careers Corner: Q&A with Mary Jo Hudson, Squire Patton Boggs

Triple-I’s “Insurance Careers Corner” series was created to highlight trailblazers in the insurance industry and to spread awareness on the career opportunities within the industry.

This month Kris Maccini, director, social media, Triple-I, interviewed Mary Jo Hudson, Partner, Squire Patton Boggs who provided insights about her career trajectory, LGBTQ+ support in the workplace, and implications for LGBTQ+ professionals following the recent Supreme Court ruling that the Civil Rights Act protects gay and transgender Americans from workplace discrimination.

Name: Mary Jo Hudson

Current Role: Partner, Squire Patton Boggs

Years at Firm: 3 years

Tell me about your current role and work at the law firm Squire Patton Boggs

I’ve been at Squire just over three years, and I lead the U.S. Regulatory practice as part of our Global Financial Services Practice Group. Our group includes several former senior insurance regulators [including myself] and several former insurance company general counsel and experienced litigators. We represent insurance companies in transactional market product issues, provide strategic advice on regulatory matters, and work with trade associations and professional associations on top regulatory issues. I particularly enjoy our thought leadership efforts – writing content as litigation experts on insurance regulations.

Prior to your time at Squire Patton Boggs, you served at the Ohio Dept of Insurance. What was your role there and what attracted you to the regulatory side of the industry?

I did two ‘tours of duty’ at the Ohio Department of Insurance. During my first ‘tour of duty,’ I was a staff attorney and then a general counsel of the Ohio Liquidation Office. We had several liquidation estates, and I was the only attorney in that office. Eventually, I went back to private practice and got involved in local politics – returning for my second “tour” as the Director and a member of the Governor’s cabinet. I’ve been out of the Department of Insurance for about 10 years now.

When I was Insurance Director – it was just prior to the Affordable Care Act – my governor had all his administration’s health reform efforts based at the Insurance Department. I was an officer of the Insurance Compact all four years of my service, and I also worked actively on numerous National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) committees and task forces, including serving on the Executive Committee and EX-1.

It was a great learning experience. Insurance regulation brings together a mix of legal and public policy together with complex financial services issues. I find the multi-jurisdictional structure to be unique and fascinating.

We’re in a time where it’s still challenging for women to make ‘Partner’ at leading firms. What has led to your success and what advice can you give to other women looking to achieve similar goals?

I love what I do. I work with great clients and try deliver the best services that I can. Law practice – especially at a larger firm – is always a challenge, and I try to learn and grow. When I talk to younger lawyers, I tell them that when doors seem to close there are a lot of windows that open. Don’t try to force things that aren’t meant for you – continue to work hard and watch for those opportunities to come as a result of that work.

It’s still a challenging profession and industry to be a woman – particularly the higher up that you go. I’ve been an open member of the LGBTQ+ community for 30 years.  I’ve found that it’s sometimes easier to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community than it is being a woman. The gender issues are somehow larger.

I remember as a young lawyer a partner once told me ‘Don’t go into regulatory work. That’s women’s work and it’s not valued.’ Regulatory is where I excel – but that work is not always valued – unless you remind colleagues about its foundational value with respect to transactions and litigation. You learn to pick your battles wisely and push where it’s needed.

Your firm has a commitment to diversity & inclusion – recognized in 2019 as one of the ‘Best law Firms for Women’ and in 2017 as a ‘Top Firm in Diversity’. Can you talk about some of the programs Squire Patton Boggs has in place to create opportunities and foster inclusion for LGBTQ+, women, and minorities?

There is a dedication at the top on diversity & inclusion, and it permeates throughout the office. The firm has worked hard to elevate women into leadership roles. Squire continues to do the work to be self-reflective and improve on our efforts.

Efforts are also focused on connections and relationships. These relationships generate business development. Our LGBTQ+ programs allow for connections with colleagues at other offices, which has led to new work for us all.

Squire has a 100% rating for the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. It’s important and a good leadership statement – involving employment policies, benefits, and a concerted effort on hiring a diverse mix of candidates. I’ve been involved in the hiring process to ensure that our next generation of lawyers is even more diverse.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, what challenges have you faced throughout your career?

I’ve always found that I had to work hard to get to advance, but I’ve always tried to be my authentic self. I was never good at being closeted. I’ve been out since the early 90s. I did find job mobility difficult, and it was tough to move from state to private practice. I had to be patient. I took a winding route professionally, instead of a direct route, combining public service, social justice service and private practice. During that time, I was very active nationally in the LGBTQ+ movement. I served on a several boards and in leadership for the Human Rights Campaign national board. This work helped me develop personally and professionally, including some great board experience.

In public service and local board service, I had a lot of what I called ‘Lady Godiva moments’ where I was often the only openly LGBTQ+ person in the room. I remember going to community events as an elected official and people [in the room] had never met anyone who was gay. I spent time listening and learning about what was going on in their neighborhoods and lives. I developed a reputation for being hard-working, and it was all about being a good public official and a good human being – less about sexual orientation.

Has recent support [for LGBTQ+] in the financial services, legal, and insurance industries eased any challenges for the community?

I do see a lot more support. Some businesses struggle with how to translate support that into the workplace. It’s an interesting perspective to work with different companies. Some do a good job at ‘getting’ diversity and inclusion. We’re still in a very conservative industry. Some companies don’t have any diversity at all. I see it growing, but there’s a gap between large companies and companies based in metropolitan areas and some companies that are smaller or mid-range. It may be a resource limitation or location. These companies need to make a concerted effort to build diversity.

The insurance industry needs to take the lead on making a multi-year commitment to getting diversity right, or they won’t be in touch with the next generation of customers.

What are your thoughts on the landmark Supreme Court decision protecting LGBTQ+ professionals from job discrimination? What do you think are the broader implications for this ruling and how it will impact the workplace?

I did not think I would see a ruling like Bostock in my lifetime. Over the years, I would read court decisions and employment discrimination cases on LGBTQ+ and the logic was so twisted against the plaintiffs. I didn’t know how we would get past that intolerance. The Bostock decision is a signal that the social justice and education work of the last 30+ years has made a difference – but we’re not done. It is a turning point to make changes for workplace and public policies on sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s a groundbreaking decision around gender identity discrimination, which has not been discussed nearly as much as discrimination based on sexual orientation. The issues of the trans community [historically] have been treated separately. It took education and a couple of generations to help define and integrate the movements. I think it’s terrific that of the cases in Bostock, the claims of discrimination based on gender identity and the claims based on the sexual orientation discrimination were so both addressed rather than split.

Where we will still have challenges – the next generation is more gender fluid. The decision  breaks down some barriers, but now we’ll need to address those issues around gender fluidity as well. Ultimately, we’ll have to work on how the individuals of our next generation can be their best authentic selves to work and to the community.