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Mastercard vice-chair shares her hopes for her biggest legacy

Lara O'Reilly
Executive Producer

From fairly early on in her career, Mastercard executive vice-chair Ann Cairns has sought to improve conditions for women in the corporate world.

Pregnant in her late 30s, while running a large sales team at Citibank, Cairns protested the company’s maternity leave policy at the time.

“I wrote a letter to HR just before I left saying, ‘You do realise that after six weeks that I get £49 a week [pay] and it’s so difficult for women to go on maternity leave, and I hope that the future is better than this experience that I’m having now’.”

“My husband found the letter the other day, we both looked at it, and went, ‘I’m so glad I did that 25 years ago’,” Cairns told the Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded show. Unusually — certainly for the time — Cairns went on to receive a promotion while she was still on maternity leave.

Watch the full Ann Cairns Global Change Agents interview here

Now, Cairns said, attitudes toward parental leave have changed dramatically. Mastercard offers a minimum of four months maternity leave for its staff around the world and two months of paternity leave.

“The great thing is the guys are taking the paternity leave and I think that reflects culture saying, it’s OK to be a dad and a parent,” said Cairns. “The more that happens, the better it is for women — both because they have their partner at home helping them, but also because it starts to level the playing field at work.”

Mastercard executive vice-chair Ann Cairns. Photo: Yahoo Finance UK

As Cairns rose up the career ladder, she has used her influence and power to continue to push for equality in the workplace. She said she hopes that will be her legacy.

“From a company perspective, I’ve been trying to build a pipeline of women who can come up and rise through the company,” Cairns said. “At the time when I took over, we only had a handful of females running countries in our company, now over 30% of our country heads are female.”

Outside Mastercard, Cairns recently became chair of the Financial Alliance for Women, which works to ensure women have better access to financial services, and co-chair of The 30% Club, a UK-based organisation that campaigns for greater representation of women across all levels of global businesses.

“I want more women to be on boards [and] more women to make it into the c-suite,” Cairns said.

Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded explores the stories of some of the most inspirational women across business, tech, and academia. Catch up on all the latest episodes here.