Mastercard’s Deputy Chief Security Officer on Attracting Talent to Cybersecurity Through a DEI Lens

With more people working remotely during the pandemic, data breaches have increased over the last year or so, leading to a demand for talent in cybersecurity roles. Some companies, such as Mastercard (No. 5 on The Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021), are putting in the work to find diverse people to fill those roles and are trying to get younger generations interested in pursuing careers in cybersecurity.

Read more about Mastercard’s DEI efforts in this Q&A Fair360, formerly DiversityInc had with the company’s Deputy Chief Security Officer and former White House Technology Executive Alissa “Dr. Jay” Abdullah:

Alissa Abdullah, Deputy Chief Security Officer, Mastercard

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.

“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 diverse employee set because our customers are diverse as well.”

Q: DEI is part of Mastercard’s mission — how do you deliver on your mission to your employees?

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.”

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, and the word hacker doesn’t have to have a negative stereotype. You can be in risk management and be a hacker, and you can be on the hard, nitty-gritty side 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 being exposed to other things, they are thinking about that in terms of what they want their career to be.”