Ann Cairns, vice chairman of Mastercard.
Ann Cairns, Vice Chairman of Mastercard, is a champion of inclusion
With 25 years of senior management experience in the finance industry across the globe, Ann Cairns is no stranger to being the only woman in the boardroom. But it’s an experience that has become far less frequent, and Cairns has the satisfaction of knowing that the efforts Mastercard is leading across the industry to help level the gender balance and improve diversity are continuing to make an impact.
Cairns’ career has provided her ample opportunities to see firsthand the overwhelming business case for inclusion at all levels of business and decision making, and this goes beyond gender balance. Ethnicity, age, industrial experience and socio-economic background – all can play a role in creating diverse teams which can strengthen businesses and help to counter the willful blindness that can take root in more homogenous work cultures.
Cairns saw the painful fallout of monolithic thinking in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008 when she led Alvarez & Marsal’s European team to manage Lehman Brothers Holdings International through the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process. “I was the CEO of Lehman holdings across Europe dealing with the six trillion swap portfolio. I do think that there is strength in having diverse groups around the board table, around the executive table,” she says.
Mastercard appointed Cairns as its first female vice chairman in June 2018 following her role as the company’s president of international markets. She has an astute analytical mind and by her own admission “loves data”. It’s a passion that she has put to good use in her zeal to bring more women into management, C-level and boardroom positions. “There’s a lot of data that shows companies with women in senior executive positions or more women on boards outperform their peers with less gender equality,” she says.
Cairns is proud to have been part of the leadership team at Mastercard that implemented a number of policies to bring more women into senior ranks in the company, including monitoring how decisions have been made to recruit senior executives globally. When this information was first requested from recruiters a few years ago, the number of women being hired to fill these roles rose by 10%.
Mastercard then introduced an objective to recruit from more diverse candidate slates across all levels of the organisation. This has led to 40% of the global hires and 55% of university hires last year being women. Achieving this aim at any organisation requires a cultural shift and Mastercard has made significant changes within the company, including a minimum level of maternity and paternity leave globally, with four months and two months awarded respectively. The company also monitors take-up rates and aims to ensure employees who become parents use their leave.
Pay is an area where Mastercard has already achieved virtual parity between the genders in most countries, and this has helped with the recruitment and retention of female professionals. When Cairns joined Mastercard in 2011 she also looked at which roles act as good ‘feeder jobs’ for senior management positions. This helped provide a pathway for many women to apply for senior positions.
Cairns also sees opportunities to help women beyond Mastercard: The firm works with numerous partners and is heavily involved with services and initiatives for financial inclusion. “We have set ourselves a target to bring the next half a billion people into the financial system between 2015 and 2020,” Cairns says. A disproportionate number of these people are women, and Cairns and her team hope to reach them with tools that can empower them to work, manage their finances and improve their lives. “It’s amazing to see the difference financial inclusion makes. It lifts people into the formal economy and empowers them,” she says. -Roger Field
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