Voice of the Industry

Diversity, Covid, and courage: Mastercard's Ann Cairns on women's careers during the pandemic

Wednesday 11 November 2020 10:23 CET | Editor: Mirela Ciobanu | Voice of the industry

Linda Perry, Wnet Co-Founder, highlights key themes discussed during Wnet’s PayTechWomenLive event. These also include advice for women on coping with work and the current pandemic

Mastercard’s Ann Cairns has spent her 40 years as a professional in male-dominated industries, from oil and gas to banking. Her career acts as a model for women navigating these uncertain times through the pandemic. At the Wnet’s PayTechWomenLive event last week, she offered strategies for standing out, even while working from home.

Ask for what you want — it might sound simple, but it’s a key strategy for women to remember as they develop their career. That’s according to Mastercard Executive Vice Chair Ann Cairns, who spoke to more than 300 payments industry experts during the Wnet’s second PayTechWomenLive event on November 5. Especially as the pandemic continues, with the economic impacts significantly affecting professional women, being clear and confident about the roles they want and the skills they have to succeed is essential.

In the first round of layoffs due to the coronavirus pandemic, 60% of those jobs were held by women according to the US Department of Labour. Those women that didn’t lose their jobs are under increased pressure at home, juggling their careers with children that are attending virtual, instead of in-person, classes. Because of this, economist Dr. Laura Sherbin estimates USD 341 billion will be lost from the economy over the pandemic.

These are tough numbers to swallow for many working women, but during the PayTechWomenLive event, Cairns offered attendees some strategies for making sure they are still being seen in the workplace.

Many women have been grateful for the chance to work remotely during this time. Women have been fighting for this opportunity for years, Cairns said, but recently, women have been getting bogged down with husbands not helping out around the house and employers being strict about 9-to-5 work hours. ‘We should be changing the way we measure people’, Cairns said. ‘We shouldn’t be thinking to ourselves, ‘How many hours did that person working for me put in at home.’ Rather, we should care about whether they were able to do their job and do their job well at whatever pace and whatever times they work. That’s really important to go along with flexible working. This shift toward outcomes over hours, or output over input, will be better for women over the long term’, she continued.

Additionally, women should take this time to think about learning new skills, especially in this moment of increased technological change with 5G cellular networks and artificial intelligence (AI). According to Cairns, women should be thinking about retraining, upscaling, and broadly becoming more technical to be better positioned to capture future jobs in these areas.

Cairns’ own career acts as a model for women today as well. Cairns, who has been working for 40 years, started her career in the male-dominated oil and gas industry. After working as a researcher for a few years, she became interested in the offshore drilling industry. Instead of waiting for an opportunity to fall into her lap, Cairns looked up the name of the man that ran the offshore drilling department and told him she wanted to work with him. And his response: ‘Great, come on down’, Cairns said. ‘If there’s something you really want, just ask for it’, she continued. ‘Because a lot of the time, people are happy to help you.’

Cairns eventually moved into banking, starting at Citibank, and working through several financial services jobs before ending up at Mastercard with a focus on innovation, diversity, and inclusion. She’s also the board chair for several organisations, including the Financial Alliance for Women, and is also the global chair of the 30% Club, a non-profit that seeks to engage corporate CEOs and boards to increase gender diversity in senior management.

This role as an advocate for diversity and inclusion has been at the forefront of Cairns’ recent career, putting a framework together with former Mastercard CFO Martina Hund-Mejean for how the company should think about gender equality. This framework consists of three pillars: people, market, and society, and has been successful, according to Cairns, because it links very closely to the core mission of Mastercard. ‘Don’t do it as a hobby; don’t do it as something on the side’, Cairns told the audience. ‘It’s got to be core.’

And sure enough, Cairns has made standing out core to her career. Jessica Turner, executive vice president of products and innovation at Mastercard, moderated the PayTechWomenLive event and recalled a photo of Cairns she saw that highlighted her flair — Cairns in a white jacket surrounded by a couple dozen men in black suits.

Cairns emphasised getting noticed in Zoom meetings and networking events by wearing something that fosters her confidence.  She also makes sure she asks an intelligent question. ‘Don’t go to networking events and waste them by not making yourself known’, she said. ‘Play your own game.’

This courageous attitude certainly resonated with the audience, as during the breakout discussions women were quick to mention Cairns’ simple but powerful message of truly knowing what you want and working everyday toward that goal. And as homework for the group, Jessica Turner concluded by reminding the attendees that if they’re asked to do something, such as moderate an event, but can’t do it, suggest another woman who would be great at the job. ‘Be conscious of what you are doing’, Turner said.

The Women's Network in Electronic Transactions (Wnet) – celebrating 15 years of empowering and investing in women – is the premier professional organisation for women in payments and the men who advocate for them, providing personal enrichment no matter what stage members are in their careers. The organisation provides world-class national and regional programming, fosters networking, and promotes mentoring to help members achieve greater personal success, influence, and professional parity. Founded in 2005, Wnet is a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organisation serving thousands of women in payments annually. For more information about national and regional events and programming, or to become a member, please visit www.wnetonline.org. 

About Linda Perry

Linda S. Perry is a payments industry expert having spent most of her career as Senior Vice President, Visa. She is a co-founder of Wnet and serves on its Board of Directors.  In 2019 Linda was inducted into the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) Hall of Fame. In 2013, 2014 and 2015, Linda was named one of the 20 Most Influential Women in Payments by PaymentsSource.com.

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Keywords: diversity, covid, financial inclusion, MasterCard, payments , digitalisation, gender gap, wnet, SMEs
Categories: Banking & Fintech
Countries: World
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