2018 Honoree

Cynthia Armine-Klein

ECP, CCO, First Data Corporation

In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?

Being your authentic self is the key of a power woman. When you are authentic you feel more comfortable in your skin, you take on challenges, you’re more creative. My boss uses a term “play loose,” and play loose means you know your subject matters, your study, your practice, so just go in there and do it in a loose and relaxed way and, to me, when you’re your authentic self you can play loose. I think this really true at every stage of your life, whether it’s school, work, or relationships. Trying to be authentic and true to yourself is what makes you a power women…In my experience, this is on-going work: you’re reflective, you think about how are you going to improve, stay true to yourself. To make somebody a power woman, being able to engage in the world, in their work, and in their lives–with relationships, with everyone–just being authentic is the difference, and that makes you a power woman.

With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? Is it a global approach or a specific issue that you are passionate about?

When I think about this, how does one balance the effort if you have a job that takes a lot of your time and mind on the work at hand. I find that if you’re passionate about something it creates opportunities, and opportunities present themselves to get involved to make a difference, and if you take those opportunities and you have the passion, time just expands. I was just working with a woman in our Atlanta office, and she has just been offered the ability to be on our board of directors in our chain of commerce, and she called me and I was so busy I wasn’t able to answer. But, if you are passionate about it, the time is gonna be made available for you, you’re gonna make that time. It’s gonna feed your soul and you’re gonna do great work at the age you are seeking. And, if you do great work at work, that feeding of your soul also helps you to be great at life. Having a passion is what creates the balance so that you can do a variety of different things that you’re interested in. With gender equality in focus, I focus on two primary things: 1) gender equality, and 2) LGBTQ issues. I do it in my job and in my community. So, I would say gender equality is much more important today, which is the specific level I focus on as the co-head of the women council for the company. We focus on issues that are better effecting woman, whether we are looking in mentoring, or at policies, not only in the firm, but also outside of the firm. We are trying things that are very specific that can make a difference in our lives. Two things that I would like to raise on gender equality are: 1) family leave. We changed our family leave policy from 8 weeks to 12 weeks, but more importantly, we did two things that we thought were really relevant: 1) we made it gender neutral, and 2) we also made a community for free flex time when your on family leave, whether you’re giving birth, caring for a spouse or a child, or for a family member. Things don’t work in big buckets of time. You may say that you need three weeks out, and then I need to spend one day per week for the next ten weeks, so you need that flexibility to deal with the real issues that you have at hand, and really just thinking of a real person and a real approach to getting it done. The second thing we’re working on, which I’m really excited about, is more work than I expected, but it’s work that has to be done: We are the first of 450 companies to pay every single woman in the organization the same as men for the same jobs. To be able to do that work and come away with a statement that we looked at every person, we looked at all the jobs, and we can affirmatively say that we are paying women equal to men in the same job. Just because you say it works, doesn’t mean it works. You gotta do the work so you can actually produce that outcome. I don’t see the pay gap going away until we mandate those changes.

If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?

I would like to part of the French and Foundas comedy team, they are awesome. Two powerful, talented women collaborate to make a masterpiece. They are laugh out loud funny. The idea of getting together, finding the comedy sketch, and performing that sketch…I would just absolutely love to do that. That would be my real fantasy job.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Lately, I’m obsessed with Queen Victoria because I’m read books on her, I watch documentaries, I watch series, and I just love it. I’ve been obsessed with Queen Victoria lately because: 1) she became Queen at such a young age. And, what I really love is the fact that, when she became queen, which was at 17, she started to remove people from her life that she felt were trying to manipulate her into being someone who she wasn’t, and I found that so impressive. What I also love is that she had this marriage, which was so passionate that they worked together and innovated together. So much new innovation was brought in her tenure, from indoor plumbing to train…I mean so much that was truly innovative for the country. I thought she was very open to that innovation. She had a big family with nine children, which was amazing. Just watching her, especially since her husband died and mourning for a long time, but watching her re-inventing her life as she went on and came out after years of this mourning of her husband and seeing people who are able to do that who just take what they are dealing with and, ultimately, come out stronger and think differently…to me, that’s amazing. I don’t know if I identify with her, but I am in awe of her. I’m inspired by her.

In what way do you work for women’s power and equality? What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take (e.g. affirmative action)?

My politics are very reflective of my activism, my teamwork, and going on the local and national level. To be frank, I’ve been completely fueled with the administration. I feel like we need to be out there, we need to be seen, we need to be heard. My wife and I have been together for 26 years and our daughter is eleven, and our son is nineteen. With our daughter, who sees and hears what’s going on and we talk about it in our house, it’s so important to us that we are active. When the inauguration happened, the next day we were in Washington at the women’s march, where over a million people gathered there and in other places together. We do local marches, so we are very active. We make phone calls to our local and federal politician so that our voices are heard for the new person they want to put on to the Supreme Court, we just can’t roll backwards. So, we’re very active in a way. We are lightly active before I think in the community standpoint. I belong to board set that resonates with women in need. It’s the largest transition for women and children going from homeless to shelters to moving on into their own places to live, and it’s just been an amazing experience to be a part of that organization. I’m the treasurer there and we have programs and services to help people to proceed to break the cycle of homelessness, and it’s really about changing the outcome and helping these woman with mentorship and basics: how to keep your house tidy, how to keep your finances together, how to manage your kids, how to build income; so, it’s everything helping women to change there circumstances. It’s really been fantastic. The second board that I’ve been on for 10 years is called Glisten and it’s called the gay, lesbian education at work. I use to be the treasurer there, and now I’m the vice chair, which really looks at creating a safe environment for kids K-12, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and how big of a difference it makes when you’re able to be your authentic self in school and you feel like it’s safe to be who you are. Fundamentally, you learn better, you graduate from school and it completely changes the outcome. So, I’m on other boards, but these two are really where I feel community, local, and national–local, which is NY, and national with Glisten to focus on women’s power and equality.

Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block in the work place and what you did about it?

When I first started at my company four years ago, it was in May, my boss transitioned my corporate role in my company and asked me to establish an LGBT workplace resource group, and I said, “sure I will.” So, literally the week I started I called human resources, and couple of other people, and said, “I’m gonna start this LGBT resource group and I want to get moving on it.” People literally said, “that’s never gonna happen to you, Cindy we don’t do that, the employees won’t be receptive to it, it’s just not who we are.” Well, I said we were, but this is who we are. So, I first had a good fortune two weeks before NY pride and I said I’m gonna take advantage of the NY pride parade, and I had my nephew, who’s a graphic artist, put together a poster that said: “We are diverse, we are united, we are proud, we are first data,” and it was in a rainbow colors and I had my boss hand a pen a note to everybody, saying we are establishing this LGBT group in diversity and inclusion and here is why diversity and inclusion is so important. Diversity of mind, diversity of thought, and also having people to be able to feel that they are supported in the work environment. In two weeks we had the posters sent out in every location in the U.S., and then I had people take pictures of themselves with the posters and put them on the website. I continued to announce that this is the work that we will be doing for the LGBT group called “Unity,” and I had a great picture of me with my wife, my mother, and my daughter at the Pride Parade. From that point, people started coming out of the woodwork. There was some negativity, of course, but people started coming out of the woodwork and said, “hey, I want to get involved…I want to make a difference here.” I want to tell you one quick story. Since that time, we went to a lot of boards we won awards four years in a row for that Human Rights campaign and all of that is nice, but here is the most important thing: so, the woman I told you about earlier who called me up that said cindy the Atlanta state of commers on the board that woman had worked there for 30 years she was in the closet and I got to Atlanta where she worked and she saw me in the hallway and said are you cindy and I said yes. She said I wanted to thank you so much for unity for the LGBT group and I said why and she said well, I came out about 3 weeks ago and I’ve been here for 30 years and I can’t tell you what a difference it made, I feel so much more relaxed at work, I feel more creative, I feel more powerful and accepted and she said she feels home shes been with her wife for 25 years it was a bond between us that she was out and I was not. But most importantly when I’m out on the street with her and I see somebody out from the company I no longer pretend that I don’t know her and I was blown away by that and then we came up something with the team we came up with the ally pledge, were we would have people from the company pledge that the the LGBT company just basics rights from people we didn’t ask for anything more and I told that story to the board of directors and I asked them to do the ally pledge and which they did which was great. Then, it was so there was a block people who said it was never gonna happen to someone who came out after 30 years that women today is now the President of the Atlanta Lesbian and Gay commerce not only did she get on the board but she became the president of the board and became really out which is great.

Have you seen any changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?

Yeah, thank god for hilary Clinton but although like many I found her laws to be painful. It did open up and renew fight in our souls mainly because it was truly based very ground of inequality because there’s no person living or dead more qualified to be president of the US then Hilary Clinton and so when she said the future is female, you know I think people took that as a rally cry and now there are woman in rouge coming out, declaring their intention to rise for house or senate or for the governor and I think that is amazing because we didn’t see that before and I think her look you know I wonder how if
she won would people have come out in the force, would women come out in the force. I think more woman clearly would have said Well I’m getting into politics but that absolute force we are seeing now, people really declaring their intentions all would apply whether it was Cythinia Nixon for New York governor or others it’s really been fantastic for beautiful diversity.

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?

Without doubt coming out was the completely defining moment in my life, you know I’ve known that I’m gay since the 2nd grade not in a sexual way but I knew that I was connected to woman, you know I just felt that way and I’ve always been gay. But, I didn’t come out to my mother until I was 32 and I didn’t come out at work until my wife and I were having our first baby which was 37 and we’ve been together already for 7 years and I decided when we were having our first child its time for me to come out. I’ve been working for the same company for 20 years and I was hiding a piece of myself for that entire time and so I decided I can’t be momma at home and nobody in the office where I spend my productive time and so I decided to go into the office and tell all in one day, that I will tell my boss and then I would bring in each and one of my senior staff who thought Jerry was my roommate that would I say to them Hey that I wanted to tell you that Jerry and I are having a baby and wanted you to know and you know I got a few nods because everyone knew Jerry I got a few nods and a few oh how nice and nobody threw anything at me and I was like wow this is alright and you know I was so frightened to do it. I remember coming home to my wife and told her oh my gosh how my day went and so relieved that I came out, the weight off of me was tremendous, what I didn’t realize I would have to keep coming out so you know that was 20 years ago and I’m constantly having to come out and whether its in a business setting, whether it’s a personal setting. You know people will ultimately ask me questions about my husband or you know if I’m married or have you, you know 9 out of 10 times come out, 2 places that I never came out one was in Texas but then I did a big speech in out and equal in Texas, so I took care of that and the second place was in India, I’ve been to India half a dozen time and I said I will never come out in India and look last week they overturn the law that prohibited homosexuality and so that’s fantastic and the fight continues. Being able to be my authentic self changed my life, it did. It changed my life at home, it changed my life at work, it changed my life with friends and family and then to be able to present that constiently for others to see and to be able to do that has been a blessing.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

The best piece of advice is just say yes and it’s just to say yes to every opportunity that presents itself its very scary but it can be very liberating at the same time. I use to be very petrified of public speaking and you know little by little I put myself out there by saying yes doing a little public speaking and get some positive feedback and that helped me saying okay I’ll try to do a little bit more studying on it. So, I think some of the best experiences in my life happened because I said yes and it reminded me of this story when my Rabbi asked me to speak at the temple at the Prima story, you know one thing about getting up in front of a bunch of people on whatever your business topic is to stand in front of your congregation and tell your story and hopefully people walk about enjoy and learn something and enjoy their time and it’s a little nerve wrecking and I said yes because the Rabbi asked even though I didn’t say yes and I did my speech and walked through it afterwards we had a little gathering together at the congregation and somebody walked up to me and said to me hey I really enjoyed that. By the way I met another person on a panel on a women’s panel during women’s day in the UN would you like to be on a panel? And I said yes you know an idea being on a panel in the UN it was a fantastic thing and it started because I said yes to a Rabbi because I could have said no because of a work thing but I said yes and then I said yes to the panel and met some good friends from there and created different relationships. I also think getting together my wife and I have been together for 26 years and our basic value because ask oh how have you been together for 26 years we say because we always get to yes, sometimes its not yes right off the back but we always get to yes. So saying yes I think it is kind of the best advice I’ve gotten and it made some great changes for me.

Who do you most admire? Why?

It’s my mother, hands down and because my mother is a change agent. My mother changed the course of our future because she changed the outcome when my great grandmother died it was back in the 20s, my grandmother and her siblings were put into foster care and that clearly had a big impact on my grandmother. When my grandmother was in a relationship and had my mother her husband was abusive and she left him and she couldn’t care for my mother so she put my mother in foster care for a quite period of time and fast forward my mother got married when she was 18 this is back in the late 50s she had my brother and 5 years later she had me and then her husband left, she was young she was 25 years old and she had to learn how to earn a living and take care of two kids and my grandmother said to her put them in foster care right because this has been her legacy and my mother wouldn’t do it, she worked three jobs and she did that for as long as I can remember and she completely and utterly changed the outcome and to me that’s a true definition of a Power Woman. My mother know just turned 81 shes on three boards on a bunch of boards and she travels extensively. 15. What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?

What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?

The books that I really enjoy the most are the ones that inspire me and touch me just think differently about life and one of the best books that I’ve read is the last lecture professor randy lacthin, the last lecture was a put on by Cardy Melon ask profressor if this was the last lecture you would give on Earth what advice what inspiration would you impart and professor Randy pouch was asked to give this lecture and after he accepted he found out that he had terminal cancer and it was true that this would be his last lecture, he lived about a year and a haf after he gave the lecture. But, the lecture is so moving but it talked about his life advice about stopping people who don’t want and letting people who want it break through that brick wall and experiences that you want to get when you couldn’t.

What do you most value in your friends?

Patience and persistence.

Which trait do you most deplore in yourself? In others?

I absolutely despise when I don’t take the high road. What I can’t stand about other people is bullying.

What do you consider to be the most over rated virtue?

Being lady-like I don’t know what that is; looking a certain way, acting a certain way being submissive this whole being lady like thing.

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