Cherish family and friends — If this situation tells us anything it’s the importance of connection. We’re all in this together. Take long walks with your family; Zoom with friends. While this is certainly a stressful time, having my two daughters, two dogs, one fish and my husband under one roof for the first time in a long time, I know that I’m secretly cherishing this time together.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Warner.
As Vice President, Talent and Community Engagement for Mastercard, Susan Warner is responsible for talent engagement, global employee volunteerism and global disaster response. During her tenure, Susan founded the company’s signature STEM curriculum, Girls4Tech™, which has reached more than 900,000 girls in 27 countries.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Iloved math as a child but growing up in a small farming town, I wasn’t exposed to many STEM role models. My limited exposure led me to believe that I could be a math teacher or an accountant, like my mother. I knew I loved to read so I studied English Literature and pursued a Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) career instead — one that I have thoroughly enjoyed. The thing about being in Communications for a tech company is that you truly have to understand the technology, boil it down and explain it in a simple, engaging way. That’s actually been very helpful to me as I’ve developed STEM education programs for two companies now.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
When I joined Mastercard in 2011, employee volunteerism occurred in pockets, but mainly in the U.S. It was also at a time when our company was transitioning its mindset from a finance company to a technology company. I knew if we boiled Mastercard down to its essence — it was all about cryptology, algorithms, big data, digital convergence, cyber security and of course, our superfast network — if that’s not STEM, I don’t know what is. So late 2013, I presented my idea to create a signature STEM curriculum — based on payments technology and have our employees serve as role models and mentors — to our CEO and he said do three things:
- Make it better than you’ve done before
- Make it global, and
- Make it for girls
Six years later, we’ve reached more than 900,000 girls, ages 8–16, in 27 countries.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
In response to these challenging times, we created Girls4Tech Connect to provide free access to a portion of our STEM curriculum. We’re also working on a customized curriculum for YCAB, a nonprofit focused on early education, in Indonesia, and exploring how to deepen Girls4Tech’s impact through more ongoing mentorship.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mother raised five children on her own and taught herself to be a bookkeeper and then an accountant. She always told me numbers would be my friend. In college when I was struggling with Statistics, she said, “You may not use algebra every day, but you will use Stats — Pay attention!” And I did. Her name was Mary Ann so she’s the M in STEM for me.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
People in STEM careers have never been more essential than during this crisis. Health workers are on the front lines and technologies like telehealth are a critical enabler for them to provide essential care to their patients. Video conferencing technology is also helping businesses to continue operating.
The people at Mastercard ensure our digital payment technology enables everyone to buy the food, medicine, and supplies they need during the pandemic. At the same time, our own employees are facing challenges in their personal lives, myself included. We’re all balancing homeschooling, caring for family members, and navigating this “new normal.” I feel lucky that our company is offering generous benefits to find the right balance, which looks different for everyone, as well as providing growth opportunities to work on creative projects that address COVID-19 challenges. We’re even running virtual Girls4Tech events for our employees’ children — featuring some of best female technologists.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My youngest daughter is a teacher and when she started teaching virtually a few weeks ago, she said she was looking for activities that students could work on independently. It dawned on us that we have these terrific STEM activities on cryptology, fraud detection, digital convergence and more that could be repurposed. And in three days, Girls4Tech Connect was built. While we had already been thinking about how to take elements of our program digital, this current crisis accelerated our efforts.
Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
Right now, all in-person Girls4Tech sessions are postponed across the globe. While that breaks my heart, it’s the right thing to do; but it also allows us to think creatively about STEM education and using technology to deliver that education. In a week’s time, we’ve had thousands of visits to our website, and we’re adding new content each week and translating the activities in several languages.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
I have grown children so I don’t profess to know what young parents with young children are going through. A colleague of mine told me that she starts to work at 3 a.m. and goes to noon, while her husband takes care of the children. Then he starts working at noon and she takes over with the kids. There’s no right or wrong way, just find what works best for you and your family, and know these crazy, uncertain times will pass.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
I miss the office. There, I said it. I miss the camaraderie, the ability to run into a friend in the hallway, the laughs shared and the feeling of being part of a team. I found that I also miss the “transition” time of my commute. So now, my morning commute is a long walk around the block and my evening commute is “30 Days of Yoga with Adrienne.” It gives me the transition time that I need.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
5. Find value in this time — I tend to travel more in the spring so I usually miss the peak blossom times for my cherry and pear tree and lilac bushes. This year I’m going to appreciate these small but glorious moments in time.
4. Think of others — Offer to shop for your elderly neighbor or help with a springtime lawn cleanup. If you are handy with a sewing machine, sew masks. Make a donation to a local food bank. There’s so much we can do for others and it has the added benefit of reducing stress.
3. Think virtual — It’s so heartening to hear about all these grandmas and grandpas using Zoom or Facetime for the first time. One of my uncles just upgraded his flip phone (which worked perfectly well, according to him) to an iPhone! Yes, technology can bring us closer.
2. Be comfortable with ambiguity — This crisis has changed us all and in some ways for better. I know I will be prepared for the next disaster, that’s for sure (I’ll purchase those darn cans of Lysol in advance). I’m learning how to accept the stress of not knowing what’s coming next but realizing that I already have the inner strength to handle it.
1. Cherish family and friends — If this situation tells us anything it’s the importance of connection. We’re all in this together. Take long walks with your family; Zoom with friends. While this is certainly a stressful time, having my two daughters, two dogs, one fish and my husband under one roof for the first time in a long time, I know that I’m secretly cherishing this time together.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Overcommunicate. Technology gives us the ability to text, Facetime, post photos, email, Zoom, oh and there’s that thing called the phone that works too. I have daily check-ins with my family members and tonight I’m having a “Wine O’Clock” session with my girl friends.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you can see it, you can be it.” This was our motto when we launched Girls4Tech in 2014 and it’s now our mantra six years later with 900,000 girls reached in 27 countries.
How can our readers follow you online?
- Twitter — @Girls4Tech, @SSWarner12
- Website: Girls4Tech.com
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!