2018 Honoree

Raj Seshadri

President, US Issuers, Mastercard

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

I would say it’s about being a voice, listening to be an agent of change and to have a better future. Being able to be a role model and lead by example, being an advocate for women in the right way, and being an advocate for men, and all people, in the right way. To make sure that there’s balance–that it’s equitable and fair. All those play into it.

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?

In the gender diversity and inclusion, I think we have to start with why it is important. It’s not important just for the sake of representation, which in itself is a good reason. But, it’s also important because diversity and inclusion and thinking through and making sure you hear different points of view results in broader thinking and more perspectives are brought to the table, which leads to results in years of creativity and much more comprehensive solutions. So, I think you have to start with why diversity and inclusion is so important–whether it’s on gender or other dimensions. One of the reasons why I’m at Mastercard is because we really embrace diversity and inclusion. We do a lot across the board. We have a culture that’s based on decency and respect, and whether it’s thinking about girls in STEM, maternity or paternity leaves, or men and women coming back to work after taking time off to take care of their children. I’m here at Mastercard because I think this is an organization that understands what diversity and inclusion do for a business, why it’s important, and acts on it.

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

I want my own job. I love my life, I’m really not like those people who say I want this or that job, I focus on my own job. I like my own, and if I don’t like it I change it. The reason why I choose my current job is because I am a woman and leader at Mastercard and I can drive a lot of change within the firm in a wonderful culture. Also, I have the ability to be in the industry with our partners, whether it’s on the business side, with some of our business partners, or on our financial inclusions of what we do around the communities with local government. I just love my job and I really don’t want anybody else job. I enjoy doing what I do. I would say a host because I love talking, asking people questions, listening to them, and meeting a diverse group of people from all different walks of life would be really fun.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Because of my science background I really gravitate toward historical figures of science, and I think of two: 1) Marie Curie and the work that she did as a woman in her generation, and the other is Virginia Upguard. I went to Mount Holoyke College and I’m one of the board of Trustees there. Every lady born gets an upguard score. These are the two women that come to mind and have so much impact on society and are such great examples of what women can do.

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)?

I’ve spent my non-working time thinking about the combination of youth and education and those are the areas I’m very passionate about. I’m on the board of Stanford Business school, the advisory board of Mount Holoyke College, and for Columbia Business School, and I’ve spent my time with SAYA in NYC, which helps the youth in South Asian families navigate education. I’ve spent a lot of time in and outside of Mastercard by women in the STEM education. At Mastercard, it goes toward tech and goes around STEM education for girls–that’s the area that I have the greatest passion around, which is taking youth women and men and making sure they have access to education and understand what their options are and understand that there is a whole world out there–especially if they come from a socio-economic background through the group, or there are girls you know are exposed to the environment that they are growing up in, instead of feeling and exploring more of the world and doing more with their life. They can do things that they may have not naturally thought of, and that’s where my time and passion has been spent outside of my work and family. My husband works and two of my sons are in high school, so there is a limited amount of time to keep passions.

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

I have a lot of examples, but what I believe is when you own your own destiny–talking about myself and my career journey, as opposed to any one particular experience. The example I’ll give you is that I love physics. I loved being a physicist and I loved studying physics. I’m still very close to my advisor and many others in the world of physics, but I like bringing physics to business because I like to bring my own destiny since I love physics personality-wise, but it was not a good fit because I was learning more and more, and dropping more and more people. For me, when I am talking back to when you I wake up in the morning, you need to be passionate about what you do. I like the content in physics and I love the people, but I wanted to do something different and something more, so I switched, which was quite difficult because it’s hard to leave an area where you are wanted and loved and doing well and have a lot of satisfaction around you. I made the switch to business and that was actually the right switch to make for me. I love different varieties and talking to different people, so it’s just a better fit of who I am. That was a tough transition because I was doing it based on the guts that I has–it wasn’t because I was unhappy, I wasn’t doing well, or because I didn’t have great people around or no support. That was one were I needed change for my own personal reasons and for my own guts. I always tell people to do what you believe and do what your gut tells you. I think most women have many stories like that, and most women have many stories supporting you. At one point, I asked one of my managers and mentors what to do if I intend on having children, and she was like, “do it before the compartment or after what are the pros and cons.” I was a young woman at the time. Do it when it’s right for you. In life’s point of view, everything will workout. I had all the pros and cons laid out.

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

I honestly think, going back to politics, business, finance, and media, across the board in every industry and in every walk of life, I think, increasingly, women and men are much more equal at work and at home. I think we talked about more men staying at home and bringing up children when the decision is made that both don’t want to work. Many families, like mine, have decided to work, but it’s nice to see that balance and equality at home and work coming to bear across all walks of life. That’s really encouraging and I think positive momentum is the positive direction.

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

There was one moment I would point to when I was finishing high school in India. In India, particularly, when you grow up you are told to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. It’s a profession of some kind, preferably doctor or engineer. When I was finishing high school I had options to go to medical schools in India or engineering school in India. Women applied through my principal and the dean of foreign students in Mouth Holoyoke college, who happened to be in India that summer, so applied to college there and I got a full scholarship to go to Mouth Holyoke. The defining moment in my life was when my parents said, “It’s your choice, it’s your life, you make the decision, but you have to life with it for the rest of your life. You can’t go around and say you made me, or I was suppose to do this. It’s your choice.” It was the best thing and my father was very instrumental for letting me do that, and other family members would say young girls shouldn’t be alone in a foreign country, and I have to say it was not only empowering, but it’s also the toughest decision I ever made and owned it. Frankly, no other decision has been difficult, but I also owned it. It was my life and I’m doing the same thing with my children. When you’re in high school and decide where you want to go to college and what you want to do for work etc., it’s your life. We will give you the advice and support you, but you’ll make the decision.

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

I would say to them what a professor of mine said to me in college when I was thinking about what I wanted to do…He said, “You are thinking about it in the wrong way. You can do anything, the question is what do you want to do?” That’s the advice I give to folks. I say, “Open your eyes to the possibilities and do what you want to do.”

Who do you most admire? Why?

I admire my mother the most. She passed away many years ago–16 years ago. I admired her because, right before she finished her college education, she had an arranged marriage to my father. But, after I was born–I was the third–she went back to school and got her degree. And, again, at that point choices were limited, but she taught in middle school and high school and she had a full life. She also had a really terrible disease and she never complained once about it and she made the most of her life. She went back and did something that she wanted to do and wasn’t allowed to do when she was younger. She was an amazing woman.

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

I read a lot. I love books of all types, but in particular I love books with strong female characters, lives of women, or women who are overcoming challenges. So, growing up my favorite author was Jane Austin. If I think about recent favorites that I’ve read, when my kids read their book in their classroom and I haven’t read them before, I usually read them too. Purple Hibiscus, which my 9th grader had last year, was a great book to read. The whole school reads the book together once a year. Station 11, I liked that. Most recently I’ve read this book that I’ve found online. It’s called Educated, which was a pretty amazing story. So, these are some recent favorites, but I read a lot so it’s hard to pick one.

What do you most value in your friends?

I would probably say integrity, honesty and being very direct, but I also say compassion and empathy. Those are the things I value the most.

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

I’ll tell you the trait that I value the most is the ability to listen and the confidence to do so. I think those are the two that I value the most. What I will tell you is that narrowing my interest to given the amount of time in the day. I would love to have more hours in the day or being less interested in the things I run into.

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

I’m gonna tell you what is the most important virtue that people should either have or embrace, which is decency and doing the right thing. I think that’s by the far the most important virtue people should have, embrace, own, and give to others around them. Doing the right thing is the most important thing in life.

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