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Conversation with Ann Cairns

Earlier this month, we held the latest event in our Women's Directorship Programme (WDP) Alumni Network Webinar series. We were delighted to host Ann Cairns, Global Co Chair of the 30% Club and Executive Vice Chairman of Mastercard. Ann shared her insights on a range of topics and spent a long-time answering questions from the alumni.

Ann Cairns speaker on the Women's Directorship Programme Alumni Network webinar
Ann Cairns, Global Co Chair of the 30% Club and Executive Vice Chairman of Mastercard

Discussions mainly focused on adjusting to the ‘new normal’ post COVID-19 and how boards have been impacted by the crisis, in addition to what the future holds for the 30% Club.

Ann shared her key insights including:

· Be mindful of the impact of COVID-19 on the working practices of all your employees – for example, know that many working mothers are making very difficult decisions right now that will impact them for years into the future (see a report here). Ann stressed that we cannot compare this unique period to what should come after. Ideally, we will see the best of working flexibly – enabling all employees to really thrive in the future.

· Boards of the future – COVID-19 has resulted in new ways of working, shorter and more efficient meetings, quicker decision making

· In-demand board skills – tech skills, international experience and communication skills (which are of particular importance now that most boards have adopted online meetings)

· This is the era of empathetic and purposeful leadership – leaders need to consider the longer-term impact of their decisions and strategy. Now is the time for solidarity during this period of turmoil and uncertainty across the globe

· Hong Kong needs to tackle the gender diversity imbalance through peer pressure – if two or more Chairmen were to take a strong lead, others will follow suit

· Boardroom pay gap – research has highlighted that a gender pay gap exists in the boardroom too. Ann doesn’t believe it can be a unique situation to just Australia and it seems to apply to more junior board members with less experience – adversely affecting the women on the board who are most likely to be in that position. One way to tackle this would be to have more women as Chairs for remuneration and compensation committees. This issue needs to be explored in more detail and addressed.

Ann Cairns and Kirti Lad on the Women's Directorship Programme Alumni Network Webinar
Ann Cairns and Kirti Lad in conversation

What’s next for the 30% Club?

After 10 years of the 30% Club, much of what the club first set out to achieve has been achieved and surpassed, but Ann doesn’t rest on her laurels. “We now have the responsibility to set new goals – the world is a very different place.” The focus is now on equal gender balance and addressing ethnicity targets, whilst continuing to reach 30% representation in markets that are lagging behind, for example in Hong Kong.

In the UK, the Club is now focusing its sights on even greater representation of women on boards and ethnicity goals, “we must challenge the status quo if we are to move forward.” The 30% Club is aiming for at least one person of colour on boards. Ann thinks it would be most appropriate to rename the club it as the 50% Club to highlight the ambition!

What does the future hold for a post COVID world?

COVID-19 is here to stay - Ann believes that COVID-19 will hold the world in its grip for years to come. A vaccination programme will be very difficult to achieve and would need to be rolled out globally at the same time to be truly effective, so that we don’t see back-feeding from other countries.

Travel - cross-border travel has been deeply affected and may never return to pre-COVID levels. Local may well be the preference for years to come.

Contactless – the move from cash has been largely driven by COVID. It was coming, but the adoption curve has been dramatically exacerbated by the outbreak.

E-commerce is the future – for example in the US e-commerce is up 96% year on year. Consumers have discovered the ease and convenience of delivery to your door.

Voice commerce is the next big thing - while voice technology had been on the scene before the pandemic, the recent crisis has set it firmly in the sights of leaders around the world. As the world adapts to the ‘new normal’, voice technology will play a huge part in the transition. Read more here from Vixen Labs (a leading voice consultancy).

Call to action

Ann encourages everyone to use the flexibility they currently have (in the COVID era), and to use it wisely to address the diversity imbalance within organisations.

Companies aren’t recruiting as they normally do - the pace has slowed down as organisations consider the best way forward. They are now able to pay attention to the future critical roles and are taking longer to fill them, as they become even more discerning and mindful in their choices. We have the opportunity to tip the balance in terms of diversity and address the gaps. It’s time to focus on succession planning, making sure the slate of candidates is deep enough.


Huge thanks to Ann for her time and insights, to the alumni for their fabulous questions and to The Women’s Foundation Women to Watch for joining us in this discussion.

In September, we have two WDP Alumni Network Webinars planned and we will share the key insights in due course. Stay tuned for more...

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