Mastercard Prioritizes DEI To Fill Cybersecurity Talent Gap

To keep DEI top of mind, Mastercard (No. 5 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021) is putting in the work to fill in talent gaps, from hiring and retaining neurodiverse people to working with HBCUs and more.

In an interview with DiversityInc, Mastercard Deputy Chief Security Officer and former White House Technology Executive Alissa “Dr. Jay” Abdullah talked about the DEI initiatives it’s currently focusing on to recruit and retain diverse talent.

Read through the Q&A for more insights from Dr. Jay:

Q: When it comes to hiring, what steps does Mastercard take to hire and retain a workforce filled with diverse employees, from neurodiversity to people of color across all roles?

A: “We had a five-day virtual hiring event, and we filled a handful of slots just from a [neurodiverse] perspective, and we changed our recruiting process just for that event. We’ve learned from our partnership with this organization called Neurodiversity in the Workplace that the recruiting process isn’t the same. We made it more of a skills-based demonstration, which we’ve learned is beneficial for those in the neurodiverse candidate portfolio.

“When we think about what we have to do, we have to think outside of the box. We can’t say ‘we’re going to target these different groups’ and not think of how to best engage those groups. As hiring managers and as an industry, we often want to do the same thing for everyone and you can’t do the same thing for everyone because everyone doesn’t need the same thing.

“We have a lot of partnerships with HBCUs, and that is highlighting the ethnic differences and bringing in those skills and those talents and that exposure. Howard University is one of the partnerships we have. We’re building a data science center with Howard University. We partnered with them and gifted them $5 million. These are the type of partnerships you really have to invest in to create diverse thinking and employee set because our customers are diverse as well.

“When you asked me what we’re doing about retaining [employees], it made me think about my experience with the National Security Agency. It is an organization that locks you in. When I say it locks you in, you can recreate yourself at the National Security Agency over and over and over again. You can hop from one organization, be completely different and have a completely different experience, job title, breadth of experiences and a whole different side of the National Security Agency.

“We’re trying to now do that and put together a program at Mastercard called Unlocked. It gives people [the chance to] retransform yourself and find a whole new career and expose yourself to another side of Mastercard. Or you can get a taste and say, ‘Well, no, I don’t want to change my career completely. I’d like to just figure out what they do in project management. Let me just take a small project over here and help this team out.’

“You have to think outside of the box. I think that thinking outside the box is a requirement for the workforce of now and the future.”

Q: DEI is really part of Mastercard’s mission — how do you deliver on your mission to your employees, your customers and the communities you’re based in?

A: “What brought me to Mastercard and what keeps me at Mastercard is the fact that we put our money where our mouth is. We’ve got a lot of employee benefits that support LGBTQ+ equality. We’ve got different learning opportunities and access to different resources that help the underrepresented employee groups, just like we do for the underrepresented groups in finance. We are unlocking financial opportunities for countries that don’t even have a brick-and-mortar bank. That is our mission. One of the things you hear us say a lot is doing well by doing good, not just by looking and saying, ‘there are customers we would love to have as part of the Mastercard family that don’t have opportunities, don’t even have the access.’ Let’s see what we can do to give them the access.

“We do the same with our employees. There are learning opportunities and access to resources for underrepresented employee groups to show and grow their skill set. … We’ve got a racial justice pro bono program that connects employees to the different needs of racial justice organizations across the United States. We’ve found that with COVID and everyone working from home, a lot of home and social things, social unrest you may feel on one side creeps its way into your work life. The way you get the best out of a person is by offering all of these different opportunities. Our racial justice pro bono program is a great example of that, especially with the racial unreadiness that the country and different countries around the world have experienced. This pro bono program helps employees to engage and make the right connections to make themselves feel good.

“In terms of a customer perspective, we focus on Black suppliers. We want to make sure we increase our Black supplier base. This year, we drove up that supplier base by 20% year over year. We want to make sure that what we’re doing in terms of DEI is not just for our employees but also for our customers and different communities.

“From the community perspective, we focus a lot on Black women small business owners. We have a program called Digital Doors that allows you to digitize your business. When you think about starting a business and wanting it to be digital, that can be a lot because you don’t know where to start. Digital Doors opens that up for you. It is a Mastercard Trust Center that provides cybersecurity education and resources; it provides business resources and steps on where you need to go and what you need to do to be a successful small business. It’s a great program and an example of how we help communities that haven’t been exposed to opportunities that are out there.

“We made a $500 million commitment to close the racial wealth gap in seven cities across the United States. That’s what we call our in-solidarity effort. Closing those types of gaps is what’s going to help our community in terms of DEI.”

Q: From your perspective, what can the cybersecurity and IT community do to improve on DEI as a whole?

A: “I’m still on my bandwagon of thinking there’s a marketing opportunity. We have continued to make cybersecurity ‘uncool.’ I think we, the technologists, have to use the creative juices that we can, muster them from somewhere, and find a cool way to introduce cybersecurity to girls, parents and teachers to help them out.

“We’ve got a lot of things we’ve done already to help in that area. One of the biggest things is our Girls for Tech program, and it’s estimated to be one of the largest STEM programs of its kind. It is focused on middle school girls, helping them get excited about STEM careers and really trying to break down that hackers are cool and we can do things in the right way. The word hacker doesn’t have to have a negative stereotype. You can be on the nitty-gritty side of risk management and be a hacker. These are all good traits, and they’re fun. It gives us opportunities to expose middle school students so as they are learning and are exposed to other things, they are thinking about what they want their career to be.

“We also have a partnership with Discovery Education, and it is offering a no-cost curriculum for teachers that helps inspire them to help us create the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. [With a] a curriculum, they don’t even have to think, ‘Okay, how do I get my middle school students, how do I get my elementary, high school students prepared? And how do I talk to them about cybersecurity careers when I don’t even know about cybersecurity careers?’ They go right to the Discovery Education website, and we’ve got different people explaining their role and how they moved up in cybersecurity.

“That’s another way to think outside of the box because you don’t know what a cybersecurity professional does, but you know what a doctor does; you know what a lawyer does; you know what a policeman does. We have to do a really good job of marketing that better. That’s what I think the community can do to improve the DEI efforts as a whole. We’ve got to make it stick, and right now, it’s not all that sticky.”

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