Christine McMahon joined Fedcap in 2009 and has championed the organization’s strategic growth, significantly increasing the nonprofit’s size as well as its service delivery and reach among people in need throughout the Northeast.
Ms. McMahon has more than 25 years’ experience in social and mental-health services in New York and New England. She is nationally recognized for the breadth of her strategic vision and her expertise across a wide range of social programs, for the implementation of numerous social-service-delivery and community-based initiatives, and for influencing state and local healthcare and social policy. She previously served as Senior Vice President and COO of an Easter Seals region that encompassed New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts.
Fedcap is a nonprofit organization. What is its mission and what is your mission for Fedcap?
Fedcap’s mission is to create opportunities for people with barriers to move toward economic independence. We provide evaluation, education, vocational and soft-skills training, job placement and post-employment support to thousands of adults and young people in the Northeast each year. We place people in jobs across a wide variety of business sectors and employ 1,500 in our own $90M managed-services operations. We also know that, for many, a job on its own – even a sustainable job that pays a living wage – is not enough to overcome the many complex barriers to long-term economic independence for many of those we serve. For example, people with mental illness or substance-abuse problems, people who are poor and uneducated, even veterans coming back from Afghanistan may face even basic life challenges that, when left unsolved, undermine success. So, in addition to helping people into jobs, we strive to understand and address the services they need to maintain those jobs. Fedcap is all about relevant and sustainable impact.
Do you think that being a woman has impacted your success positively or negatively?
I’m grateful to all those brave people who fought for women’s rights, but we’re still a long way away from a gender neutral playing field. I like to understand when gender differences exist, figure out how to embrace or overcome those differences, and then leverage the situation to succeed.
How would you describe your management style?
I am collaborative but I’m also decisive and I don’t beat around the bush. And I like consensus, although I do sometimes think it’s overrated. I’d prefer to have the right answer than to have everyone agree on the wrong one. Perhaps the best way to describe the style that I aspire to is that I try to lead people to think differently about the issues that confront us, to shift the conversation, to explore alternative pathways to achieve our goals. I am decisive but I believe that the best decisions are made when we truly understand the problem that we’re trying to solve. A leader’s job is to ask the questions that get us to that holistic understanding, and then to facilitate the thinking and discussion necessary to reach solutions that are grounded in and responsive to that problem. And then of course a leader needs to be able to mobilize people and to find resources to get the job done.
When you’re working- how do you stay connected to leaders and your local business community?
I like best to work in groups and to rally people around a problem. As a not-for-profit organization, we have an obligation to solve problems. I am fond of inviting representatives from our biggest competitors to an all-day planning session. We can compete and work together in the community without anyone having to compromise. In fact, I believe that this sort of approach benefits everyone much more so than when we remain in our individual silos. But the sort of collaboration and even partnership that I’m talking about takes work and time. Effective alliances require knowledge of the other, understanding of priorities, goals and challenges, and ultimately depend on trust and mutual respect.
What professional advice would you offer that has served you well?
Mistakes happen. Focus on the recovery and find strength in learning from your mistakes. Another piece of advice that I love to share came from a fortune cookie. Seriously. It is: Efficient people get the job done right. Effective people get the right job done.
Name one common mistake you see women make in their careers.
Too many women minimize their accomplishments and don’t take credit they deserve. Men are better able to be competitive and to talk about their accomplishments in proactive, definitive terms. Women are much more likely to talk as “we.”
As the CEO of a company, do you consider diversity when selecting outside advisors, such as legal counsel or financial professionals?
There is intrinsic value in diversity–bringing together professionals with different cultural experiences and perspectives can contribute to the dynamic exchange of ideas to promote innovation and growth. It is also critical to match the right person with the right skill set with the right job. Both are achievable in today’s business environment.
Describe your views on philanthropy.
Philanthropy is vital to solving communities’ problems and can be more effective than a government framework. When people make personal contributions to the community, they get more directly engaged in the outcome than when they’re just paying taxes. At the same time, we shouldn’t have to constantly make the moral case for sustainable government funding for things like education.
What can companies and professional women do to give back to their communities?
We put too much pressure on companies to fix problems in this country. We want businesses to hire veterans yet we don’t help them learn how to effectively translate military mindsets and skills to the civilian workplace. We tell businesses they must hire the previously incarcerated but we hold those businesses responsible should anything go wrong with an employee. That said, companies should become actively engaged–even insert themselves–into education to introduce young people (especially young women) to career possibilities. There are too many kids in economically deprived areas who can’t even name five careers, let alone aspire to them.