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Ajay Banga, President & CEO, MasterCard. (Marc Bryan-Brown/Women in the World)
Ajay Banga, President & CEO, MasterCard. (Marc Bryan-Brown/Women in the World)

Removing obstacles

“Not having an identity is effectively like being in prison”: Ajay Banga describes efforts to unblock women’s path to success

By Roja Heydarpour on April 8, 2016

On the last day of the Women in the World New York Summit, after hearing from powerful women across the globe, Tina Brown sat down with a powerful man.

From providing women around the world with identification cards to giving women in the United States equal pay and paid maternity leave, Ajay Banga, president and CEO of MasterCard, touched on tangible efforts to unblock the path to success for women.

Nearly 2.5 billion people live without a legal form of identification, and most of them are women, he said. Without an ID card, these women don’t have access to financial institutions and are much more susceptible to theft and abuse. Through programs that vary from country to country, MasterCard helps women get IDs by using fingerprints, registries and biometrics.

“Not having an identity is effectively like being in prison,” said Banga. “Everybody is going around with their hair on fire about the Internet. If you don’t have an account, it will be the Internet of everything, but not the Internet of everyone.”

In South Africa, MasterCard partnered with private organizations and the public sector to register elderly women and provide them with identification cards. Once these women have the cards, their social security money is automatically deposited onto their cards every week, making them less likely to lose a pocketful of cash in a robbery or to be taken advantage of by an abusive landlord.

With 60 to 70 percent of purchasing decisions made by women, Banga said that providing women access to financial institutions through ID cards makes not only humanitarian sense, but also fiscal sense.

Banga practices what he preaches within his own company — and family. His CFO is a woman and 60 percent of his employees in tech and research and development are women. He makes sure that all those women are paid the same amount as men who are doing the same job, he said. Women are given 16 weeks paid leave with no impact on bonuses and are allowed to return to work gradually. (Men get eight weeks of paid leave.)

Banga’s empathy and consideration for women in the world and the workplace is rooted in his family life—from his mother to his wife and daughters. He says that changing subtle attitudes at home is a key factor in removing obstacles to women’s professional advancement.

“Let’s say there’s a girl and a boy in the house. The mother and the father will ask the boy to sit with the guests while the girl goes to get tea for the guests,” Banga said. “That is a subliminal message that they are not equal.”

From recruiting more women from science, tech and engineering schools to providing realistic environments for life-work balance, Banga is creating ways for more women to make it through the pipeline to reach the top.

“If half the world’s population is unable to find the right opportunities to succeed, how do we expect our world to keep growing?” he said.