In conversation with Jennifer McGuire…

In conversation with Jennifer McGuire… ‘I wanted to see the world’

Jennifer McGuire, global portfolio head for audit and change at HSBC, opens up to Jas Hullait from Protiviti’s iGROWW network about early career ambitions, faith in tough times – and learning to be comfortable with change.

Please tell us your professional story and how your career has developed?

When I was at school, I knew I wanted to work in business, because many people in my wider family were self-employed. But, if I am being honest, I wasn’t sure what that entailed, so, I decided to do a business degree, which gave me choice and flexibility. I knew I wanted a job that involved travel because I wanted to see the world.

After university, I was lucky to get a job on a graduate scheme for a building materials company, which was implementing the SAP technology platform. As part of the global team, I worked in Ireland, Croatia, Spain, Switzerland, including some smaller projects in Hungary, Mexico and Poland. It was an amazing experience to go from a small town outside Glasgow to travelling around Europe and North America.

After that, I moved to Australia and spent several years consulting. Initially, I was working on SAP programmes, but my work also included business transformation and assurance projects; I learned so much working in different industry sectors. Since moving back to the UK, in 2013, I have lived in London, working in internal audit and focussed on change; supporting companies to undertake transformation projects safely and successfully.

You’ve travelled a lot in your career, how do you manage your work-life balance?

I don’t travel as much as I did, which has made it easier to manage work-life balance. Right now, there is – quite rightly – a lot of focus on wellness at work. I’m always reflecting on my mental health, physical health, and prioritising the right things. I’m at my best when I have time to exercise, eat well, and see friends and family. I don’t always get it right, but I don’t beat myself up; I just look forward and try to find that balance again.

How have you found working at home?

I’ve always been part of international teams, working with people remotely, one way or another, so I’m used to it. I think working from home is good because you don’t have the commute, but I make sure I go into the office about twice a week. It’s good to have that separation between work and home, and seeing the team in person; I’m not a complete convert to working at home all the time.

What’s the biggest adversity you have faced in your career?

During the first lockdown of the pandemic, I was made redundant. Normally, I like to change roles every two to three years, so, this was the first time the decision had been taken out of my control. It was a scary time for everyone, because so much was unknown about Covid-19, but it was a really challenging time for me, because I’d always been in demand professionally. Luckily, in quite a short period of time, I was given a great opportunity to join HSBC, and it’s worked out well. But it was a real test of my resilience.

Looking back, would you have done anything differently?

I should have had more faith that everything would work out. In some ways, it was good to have that time off: I studied with the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors, I threw myself into DIY. But having a bit more faith about my next role would have helped me enjoy it more.

The theme of self-belief is also related to the best advice I have received. When I was working as a SAP consultant, travelling around Europe, a member of the management team asked me to join the fast-track scheme to senior leadership. I looked at the advert and didn’t have all the qualifications, so didn’t apply. What I didn’t realise at the time is that I had been earmarked for the scheme. She sat me down and said I didn’t need all the skills, that I should put myself forward, and have the confidence that I will grow into it. It was an eye-opening conversation, which has stayed with me ever since.

Have you seen any improvements to the gender gap during your career?

When I was younger, I worked almost exclusively in all male teams, because I was involved with technology. I didn’t question it because I thought gender didn’t matter in meritocracies. But when I look back, there were instances of unconscious bias, even if I didn’t realise at the time. We’ve all got better at talking about these issues, and not putting myself forward for a leadership role, is an example of what women tend to do.

When I look at businesses, I always look at the diversity of the senior leadership team, and not just gender, class backgrounds as well, for example. If you can see diversity at the top of a company, it’s usually a good indicator there is diversity throughout. I think it has improved since I was younger, but there’s still a long way to go.

Do you have any advice for the next generation of women?

To be comfortable with change. The job market has changed dramatically since I first started working and that change is accelerating. I can see how many new ideas and technologies are coming through and how much they will impact people’s roles and responsibilities. The next generation of women should be curious, ask questions and reflect on their values, strengths, and key skills: How can these be applied to different roles? That’s going to be even more important for future generations.

iGROWW is Protiviti’s internal women’s network group and stands for ‘Initiative for Growth and Retention of Women at Work’. It has a strong voluntary membership that tackles women’s professional issues through forums, networking events and community service activities. For more information, please contact Rhianne Williams [email protected].