The engine powering diversity and equity efforts

February 23, 2022 | By Matthew Driver

Inclusion truly does matter—and I’ve seen the positive impact it has had around the world.

Oftentimes we use the phrase “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” as a catch-all, without necessarily thinking of how its constituent elements individually contribute to a better society. To me, the best way of explaining this is with a metaphor. You can invite a diverse group of people to a meeting—people of differing race, gender, sexuality, age, and so on. You can ensure that there is a sufficient number of microphones at the desk, with their volumes all set at the same level. This represents equity. However, if people aren’t given a sense that their presence and contributions will be valued in the meeting, or if the conditions aren’t conducive to them joining, then it may diminish the positive impact of your other efforts.

Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to be involved with advocating for gender equality and diversity awareness. Most recently in Singapore I am the current executive sponsor of Mastercard’s Women’s Leadership Network (WLN) and our LGBT (PRIDE) Business Resource Group in Asia Pacific, a male champion of the Singapore Financial Women’s Association and House of Rose International, and an executive leader of UN HeForShe in Singapore. My job has always been internationally focused, and because of this, I’ve spent time in many culturally and economically diverse markets all around the world. Although I’d always had some inherent understanding of the value of inclusion, raising four daughters in this international environment has helped to drive home the kind of future I want to see for them. Oftentimes, their observations and questions about why things are the way they are in different parts of the world have forced me to re-evaluate my own priors and blind spots.

The fact is, that when it comes to inclusion, we always need to be re-evaluating our approach.

Real Inclusion is Proactive

In some ways, inclusion is the toughest element of DEI because it relies so heavily on interpersonal interaction—it’s not just about structural change, but about trust, understanding, and respect. It’s often said that inclusion should be organic, and in an ideal world, that would be true. But when you’re dealing with imbalances that have been deeply entrenched, waiting around for organic change means that countless people will get left behind in the process.

Because of this, creating, and advocating for, a truly inclusive environment NOW requires us to be proactive. At Mastercard, our Business Resource Groups (BRG) are one of the ways in which we’re working to drive inclusivity. These are self-directed groups of individuals who have shared affinities and experiences, such as our PRIDE (LGBT) BRG, our Latin Network, or the WLN. BRGs were spearheaded at in our HQ in the US, but have been given the freedom to adapt to their members’ needs in the regions; this helps us foster the potential among groups that are underrepresented and drive DEI with the local context. On a more fundamental level, though, these groups are geared towards shattering the stereotypes and respectfully challenging social conventions that often bolster deep-seated discrimination—and ultimately this is what will help to drive lasting change.

Businesses Can and Should Be Agents of Inclusion

As a head of Services with Mastercard, I’m in the privileged position of being able to help shape our products and services. An important aspect of my work here has been ensuring that we do this in a way that actually fosters inclusion, so I’m consistently asking questions like “do our products help connect the underprivileged to economic opportunities?”, and “do our products cater to the cultural needs of diverse groups of people?” and “how do we ensure that when we utilise data responsibly that ensure that our AI models have the right oversight and are tested to eliminate bias”. Mastercard has a deep focus on driving economic inclusion, but this can’t just be about charitable acts in the world—it needs to permeate through all aspects of what we do and what we offer.

Given the complexity of the technology that we build, we need to be cognizant of the kinds of structural and systemic biases that can hold people back, and to actively make sure we’re correcting for any of these issues. This is a particularly big issue in the development of AI, which can potentially “learn” existing societal biases, and may then make decisions about, for instance, who to offer credit to, or who to hire, based on those biases. To be sure, technology will be one of the tools that helps to create more inclusive societies, but without conscious human supervision and intervention to prevent these problems arising, it could potentially have the opposite effect.

Driving Inclusion Now Means a Better Future for All

The events of the last 24 months through COVID have resulted in incredible loss and upheaval, and it’s going to take a real concerted effort to try and repair this damage. What’s more, many of those most affected by the pandemic were those who were already disadvantaged or on the fringes: those without access to good medical care, those who don’t have a support network, or those without the financial means to keep their small business afloat.

The inequality highlighted by the pandemic should sharpen our focus on addressing this issue. With so much in flux right now, we have an opportunity to rebuild a world without the entrenched disadvantages that have plagued us for so long.

Photo of Matthew Driver
Matthew Driver, Executive Vice President, Head of Services, Asia Pacific, Mastercard