HSBC's Meghan Curtin McKenna on women supporting women
Meghan Curtin McKenna, who manages the Venture Capital and Technology Originations Team on the East Coast for HSBC’s corporate bank discusses her career so far and how she advocates for other women.
How did you get into banking?
I attended Colgate University, and one of my good friends there was going through a management development program at M&T Bank. She and I were had very similar personalities, were both very outgoing, and had similar desires to go into frontline sales. Beside that I didn't really have any structure as to where I wanted to end up, but she spoke of the program so highly that I ended up applying for the following year. I've worked in banking ever since!
You previously worked in Treasury at JP Morgan Chase. Can you tell me about what prompted your career move?
After completing the management training program at M&T Bank I decided that I was ready to move on. I was living in Buffalo at the time, and being a native New Yorker I wanted to get closer to home, so I ended up applying for a job at JP Morgan Chase straight out of the M&T program. I spent about six years working there in Treasury as a product specialist. I was very happy in the role, but I eventually started to feel that I wanted more of a challenge. I reflected on what I wanted next in my career, and decided that I would like to have my own book of clients and be a main point of contact for them. That spurred me to transition to relationship management, and to move to HSBC where I now focus on technology and healthcare.
You currently run a team at HSBC. Can you tell me about how you worked your way to this position?
My first boss at HSBC was after me for a good two years while I was still working at JP Morgan Chase, and eventually the timing just felt right, so I just took the leap and went for it. HSBC didn't have much of a focus in healthcare, and I saw a lot of opportunity there, so I plugged myself into that sector. That's where I spent the majority of my time until I transitioned onto the technology team, and my time is now split between technology and healthcare. Technology is a really exciting industry and it's a great time to be working within such an innovative sector. It's been a blast, and I've really found my footing over the last few years.
What would you say has been the biggest success of your career?
My transition into my current role would have to be one of my biggest successes. Having a position that has national reach is something that I've always strived towards, and I enjoy working with all of the sub-sectors within technology and learning about the different firms within venture capital. For me, achieving this position is a marker of my success in the industry.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge in your career?
This year has certainly been a significant challenge. I think everyone has faced similar struggles when it comes to COVID-19, but because my role relies heavily on in-person meetings and travelling to events it's been a major adjustment. I had to completely change my approach and move to a virtual environment, which took a little bit of time to figure out, but ultimately it has taught me a different style of working. I think that during this time people were so willing to get on calls and have human interaction that it didn't pose as large an obstacle as I thought it would. Once we got our footing under us it became the normal way of doing business and ended up being a much more efficient way of working than commuting for several hours a day into the city. You can talk to people in other time zones and so it became easier to reach people internationally.
What do you think are the most crucial ways that women can advocate for one another?
Over the past couple of years, I noticed that progressing in this industry can be challenging, especially for women. I realized how important it is to make sure that we're mentoring and helping the next generation of leaders. I always try to encourage female colleagues to apply for roles that are outside of their comfort zone, as women often don't put themselves up for positions that seem slightly outside of their reach, whereas men seem to feel more confident doing so.
I also think that networking and continuing to build a really diverse ecosystem is important for everyone as they look to advance in their careers. I try to both ask for mentorship from female leaders, and to offer up mentorship to more junior women as they climb up the ranks. I have always had mentors that inspired me, but in a male dominated industry they often ended up being men. It's become more of a focal point for me to try to have a very diverse set of mentors including a strong female leader that I can talk to and understand her perspective. Last year I also became part of a leadership development program focused on women within HSBC where I was assigned a senior sponsor, and that's been an absolute godsend.
Women are underrepresented in banking in the US, particularly at senior levels. What do you think needs to be done to change this?
I think mentorship is very important, and I also think that calling out implicit bias is crucial. One of the challenges that I've faced throughout my career is being seen as too direct or too aggressive, and in the same context I don't think that men face the same criticism. It's a challenge that many women face, and I think that men are also starting to realize that this is something that exists and that they can help to fix.
Our Head of People has done a really good job of making sure that diversity is prominent and at the forefront of what we're trying to correct, and promoting women from within is a very high priority. I think that five years ago this conversation would have been very different and I think that HSBC in particular is really trying to put an emphasis on levelling the playing field and getting women into leadership roles. That's been an exciting change in the industry, and one that it's been great to be a part of.
What has been the most challenging aspect of being a woman in a male-dominated industry?
Navigating the implicit bias that I mentioned has been a significant challenge. I find myself contemplating whether I am too direct or too aggressive, or whether the problem is with how people are perceiving me as a woman. Trying to find a medium between staying true to myself whilst also being respectful of others has been something that I have had to navigate, but I still try to push back when I think that I'm right. If someone doesn't like how I'm putting myself across then I'll ask questions such as "what would you do differently?" in order to get feedback. Being able to understand whether I really am being too aggressive in this scenario or if this was something that was taken out of context helps me to be as self-aware and grounded as possible, and to make sure that there's full transparency around why I am coming across in the way that I am.
What advice would you give to other ambitious women wanting to succeed in this industry?
I think that making sure that you're putting yourself out there for career advancement is very important. The mistake that I made early on was thinking that if I do my best and am performing well in a role then I'll automatically get promoted. Unfortunately, it really doesn't work that way in corporate America, and if you want something you have to really push for it and continue to push for it every day.
I would also advise focusing on building a strong network of both internal and external contacts. You never know who is going to present you with the next opportunity, and the more a diverse group of people you have in your corner, the more likely you are to find opportunities that you might not otherwise have thought of. Going beyond who your typical circle is and making sure that you connect with people from all different backgrounds is essential to give yourself an outside perspective and also find other opportunities that you might have passed on previously.