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Mastercard's vice-chair on how she handled Joe Biden mistaking her for 'the spouse' at Davos

Lara O'Reilly
Executive Producer

Mastercard vice-chair Ann Cairns is one of the most powerful executives in the global payments industry.

Yet when Cairns’ husband, a retired geography teacher, was introduced to Joe Biden at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, the former US vice president and current 2020 presidential candidate assumed incorrectly he was the Mastercard executive he was due to be meeting. Mr Cairns, as the BBC reported, was attending Davos on a spouse ticket.

Speaking on Yahoo Finance UK’s Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded show, Mrs Cairns said, “I’m rather a small person, my husband is 6’5” and ... he’s been coming to Davos with me for the last years. Quite often he’s mistaken as the delegate and clearly I’m the spouse ... even by pretty senior people.”

Watch the full Ann Cairns Global Change Agents interview here.

Biden shaking Cairns’ husband’s hand and not hers “was a natural mistake — it could have been anything — I’m not overly precious about that,” Cairns said.

Yahoo Finance UK has contacted Biden’s representatives for comment.

When those types of situations occur, Cairns said she tends to react with humour.

“Sometimes you point things out and actually if you do it in a humorous way, like, ‘isn’t that funny that happened,’ that actually people take the message better, it goes down better,” Cairns said. “Rather than doing it in a way that’s like, ‘well how offensive, the guy should have known’ ... so I actually think that it’s humour and appealing to people’s senses that makes a difference,” Cairns said.

Mastercard executive vice-chair Ann Cairns on the 'Global Change Agent with Lianna Brinded' show. Photo: Yahoo Finance UK

Both outside and inside Mastercard, one of Cairns’ spends much of her time working to drive diversity and inclusion for women in the corporate world.

She recently moved into the position of co-chair of The 30% Club, a UK-based organisation that campaigns for greater representation of women across all levels of global businesses. Last month, she also became chair of the Financial Alliance for Women, which works to ensure women have better access to financial services.

“I feel that I’ve been really trying to change things for women in the corporate world ... In later life, of course, as you become more powerful, you can influence and impact more women both internal to your company and external.” Cairns said on the Global Change Agents show.

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.