MASTERCARD AND ANN CAIRNS’ QUEST FOR AN INCLUSIVE FUTURE
The first thing that comes to mind is that you were the first woman in the UK to work offshore on an oil rig. What led to the move into banking? Are there any parallels you’ve found between the two at all?
When I first started out in engineering, I was entering a maledominated industry. The same was true when I chose to transfer to the financial sector; however, this was not an issue for me at all. Both areas present outstanding opportunities, and it’s vital to seize the moment whenever these arise. As female executives, we should never place any self-imposed limits on the scale of our ambition – regardless of perceived challenges. If we are determined enough, we can identify opportunities, commit to our goals and realise our dreams. There is only one way to successfully drive change, and that is to lead it.
How has your role changed now from when you were global president of international markets?
Overall, the focus has become even more strategic. I’m happy to say I am overseeing several global initiatives that are close to my heart, including inclusion and the empowerment of women both within the company, and in the communities it serves. My work takes me around the world to explore and develop fresh projects and opportunities with senior partners,
foundations and governments. As an ambassador for Mastercard, it is my role to spread the word on the benefits of our innovative solutions and how these can be leveraged to connect and empower citizens, uplift communities and drive greater financial inclusion. On a personal level, it’s highly rewarding to witness the positive social impact of Mastercard’s ongoing global efforts to be a force for good and make a difference in people’s lives.
In your time at Mastercard, have you seen an improvement in terms of gender equality in the workplace?
Gender equality has always been a top global priority for Mastercard. The company has a long history of engaging, enabling and empowering women, and continues to make significant strides. I’m very pleased to see the number of women in key leadership roles increase significantly during my seven-year tenure as Global President of International Markets, with the percentage of female Country Managers rising to 31 percent. Here in the Middle East and Africa region, more than 50 percent of our new hires last year were female. Mastercard was ranked fourth on Diversity Inc’s 2018 list of the top 50 most diverse companies, rising from seventh position last year – a highly encouraging step on our path towards realising our vision of an equal future.
What is the most important aspect of genders working equally in the workplace that the world and its employers need to embrace? Organisations around the world are realising that a diverse workforce is critical to driving innovation and maintaining a competitive edge. When men and women come together with a common purpose and a shared vision, we can make a collective impact and help to create a fairer, more equitable world for all. We explored this theme of unity recently at our ‘Together We Lead’ forum in Dubai, an initiative organised by Mastercard’s Women Leadership Network. Events such as these are crucial in driving equality, inspiring success and empowering female leaders to scale new heights. Mastercard remains at the forefront of this movement, having made diversity, inclusion and opportunity top priorities globally.
In an earlier interview, you were described as someone who could make a complicated task seem straightforward. How do you do that, boil a complex project down to its basics?
During my engineering days, I found the process of fixing things fascinating. My interest lay in seeing how everything fitted together and developing innovative solutions, and this same approach can also be applied to the financial and payments technology industries. Overcoming complex challenges is like playing a game of chess. You need to carefully think through every decision you make, consider your next move, and anticipate the outcome for each course of action to successfully reach your goal.
What one lesson has helped you in your career the most?
Early in my career, I realised the importance of keeping an open mind and embracing new opportunities and experiences. I am very fortunate, in that my work has taken me to all corners of the globe, enabling me to connect with all kinds of people from diverse cultures and backgrounds.
This taught me to recognise the true nature of diversity – that all the little things that make us different are, in fact, assets. By fostering a culture of inclusion, we can leverage people’s unique abilities and perspectives to drive innovation and build a better tomorrow, where everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential. That’s something truly priceless! Also, I strongly believe in the importance of sponsors. Mentors teach you how to do things, they give you the tools and confidence to do it. A sponsor is there to be your cheerleader, your supporter – he or she will help you to break down barriers. Sponsors help you to reach the next level in your career and personal life.
“OVERCOMING COMPLEX CHALLENGES IS LIKE PLAYING A GAME OF CHESS. YOU NEED TO CAREFULLY THINK THROUGH EVERY DECISION YOU MAKE, CONSIDER YOUR NEXT MOVE, AND ANTICIPATE THE OUTCOME FOR EACH COURSE OF ACTION TO SUCCESSFULLY REACH YOUR GOAL”