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“It is a myth that the gender STEM talent gap has been solved”, with Penny Bauder & Dana J. Lorberg

There are so many myths I want to dispel: that women aren’t as capable in STEM or tech, that women are better at soft skills and there is no need for these skills in a STEM or tech career and the biggest one — that the gender STEM talent gap has been solved. When looking […]

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There are so many myths I want to dispel: that women aren’t as capable in STEM or tech, that women are better at soft skills and there is no need for these skills in a STEM or tech career and the biggest one — that the gender STEM talent gap has been solved.

When looking at tech careers more generally, the myth that tech jobs are highly binary — that you sit behind a screen staring at numbers all day — is a misperception that needs to be addressed. STEM and tech are such dynamic fields — and in today’s ever-changing world, these careers can make real positive impacts on the world.

I think these “myths” start early too — before girls are out of school. Once young women get to the high school age, their overall confidence decreases significantly — be it questioning their overall smarts or their abilities in STEM-related courses. This age group, and those even younger, need additional support and encouragement to boost their confidence overall — and within STEM specifically. We need to highlight how STEM careers tap into the left brain and/or highlight how these careers extend into other interests (e.g., coding as a foreign language) to flip the script on STEM.


Dana J. Lorberg is the Executive Vice President of Operations and Technology, Product. In this role, Dana runs the Mastercard global payments network — responsible for network processing in support of credit, debit and pre-paid products. In her thirty-plus years with Mastercard, Dana has played an integral role in building Mastercard’s global payments network and ensuring Mastercard delivers safe, simple and smart transactions for customers — every time, everywhere in the world. Prior to this role, she has held a range of technology and business leadership positions — from writing code to leading commercial departments, including consulting, mergers and acquisitions and technical security. Dana has been named among the Top 25 Non-Bank Women in Finance by U.S. Banker and the Most Influential Women in Payments by both Card Forum and Payment Source.

Dana is a lead mentor and company spokeswoman for Mastercard’s signature STEM program, Girls4Tech, which offers hand’s on curriculum to girls aged 8–12 across the globe. She speaks at national conferences to encourage young girls and women to pursue STEM careers. Dana is on the board of the National Academy Foundation (NAF) — STEM Advisory Committee and participates in community and academic events with Washington University in St. Louis.

Dana received a Bachelor of Science in Data Processing and Quantitative Analysis from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.


Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

One of the first encounters I had with a computer was when one was wheeled, yes wheeled, into my class in high school. I was fascinated by it and knew right then it was something I wanted to work with and help the world by learning and using. And I did just that, getting a degree in data processing and quantitative analysis.

I’m a self-proclaimed girl geek — and proud of it. And this “geekiness” has served me well throughout my career as my curiosity and propensity for learning new things has brought me into unexpected territories.

I first started as programmer at Mastercard and since then have worn many hats at the company — from financer (which was something I really wasn’t used to) to a process improvement architect and even marketing. And then in full circle, I came back to running what is our most important asset — our network — which I helped build as a programmer.

When I started in this role, being a coder, and a female coder at that, was a bit of an anomaly. Now, we’re finally seeing coding have a bit more of a “cool factor.” This is really heartening but there is still quite a bit of work to do when it comes to ensuring the next generation of women can see themselves in this career. Part of this has to do with representation — if you don’t see someone like you in a role, it can be harder to imagine yourself there one day too.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

When I came to Mastercard, we were a small, not for profit company and largely US focused. I am one of the original engineers and had the opportunity to be part of the team that has created the amazing technology offerings we have today. The part of my job that I still find most fascinating is how we built our exceptional global network that enables safe and smart commerce in 210 countries and territories. As engineers, we were wiring the world with our network and laying down the technology foundation everywhere our brand became accepted. We solved so many complicated engineering challenges as we knew we had to keep transactions flowing across the network without exception. Our original architecture and engineering designs continue to serve us today and we have added to the original foundation with so many brilliant and amazing capabilities.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I recall, as a young engineer, getting a phone call from the President of the Operations & Technology division for a meeting. I was shocked and actually didn’t believe it was really him. I arrived to the meeting so shaken and shy that I accidentally drank out of the President’s coffee cup! However, the meeting made me realize that I had a seat at the table (after the horror of my “blunder”). I realized he wanted me there because of my tech knowledge and solution-finding nature. It was a pivotal moment in my career and taught me to have confidence in myself because I was a critical team member and I could make an important difference.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I truly believe that what makes Mastercard stand out is our commitment to doing well by doing good. It’s a space where we walk the walk. Every company calls themselves a technology company these days, but how are you using that technology to change the world for the better? At Mastercard we believe in connecting people to the digital economy who otherwise couldn’t — from connecting farmers in Africa to the digital marketplace to exploring a digital model for refugee camps to access basic human goods. We want to make the world a better place.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

As I mentioned, finding meaningful ways to encourage young girls in STEM has become a true passion of mine. My team and I are constantly working to find new and engaging way to do this. Most recently, we’ve been working to understand the gender gap in STEM on a deeper level — why are girls not interested in STEM? Are they interested but being deterred along the way? We all know there is a drop-off, but why? We want to make sure we’re looking at all the details to better understand the “why” so we can better figure out the “how”. It’s not enough to talk about the issue, we need to figure out real concrete ways to address the gender talent gap. One of the ways we’re trying to make a tangible difference is through our Girls4Tech program, which has already reached over 500,000 girls in 28 countries and on 6 continents. The program has also engaged more than 3,500 Mastercard employee mentors worldwide. If we can connect more mentors to young women and continue to engage them often, we have the opportunity to fix the talent disparity that currently exists in the tech field.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

To put it plainly: No. You should never be satisfied with the status quo and I’m definitely not in terms of women in STEM. And how could I be? According to a recent study, while women make up 59% of the total workforce, they are averaging only 30% of the workforce across major tech companies.

And this isn’t a skills problem — it’s a confidence problem. In fact, another survey, recently fielded by the Mastercard team, found that males are more likely to say they would be more successful in a STEM career than females (90% vs 82%).

We need to figure out a way to help young women feel more capable and better supported to pursue these subjects or we risk solving the gender talent gap long-term.

And considering 80% of all jobs will require some sort of STEM field experience in the next decade — this isn’t just a nice to have but a must to ensure the future success of the next generation of female talent.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

One of the biggest challenges is feeling supported to pursue a STEM or tech career. Far too often, young women decide they aren’t interested in STEM careers or they aren’t smart enough for STEM careers. The former can be due to not fully realizing the vast number of jobs that exist within the STEM umbrella. The latter is a giant misperception and one that requires rewiring. We need to better understand our audience. What motivates girls? What gets in their way? If we don’t rethink how we communicate and engage with these young women, we are never going to fully solve for the disparity within the field.

The best point of comparison I can make is the way math was taught forty years ago. If a student didn’t follow a very specific way of solving a problem than they were dubbed “inadequate” at math. Now, we’ve learned there are different approaches to the same sorts of problems and different types of learners require different ways in to solve a problem. It’s just about learning what method works best for each learner.

We need to expand this beyond the way we teach to the way we talk about certain subjects too. If we reframe the way we talk about STEM and expose both men and women to more in the field, we have a better opportunity to get more people interested and involved long-term.

I’ve always felt that women have a drive to want a career in which they help people. And if we can show them the vast ways in which STEM careers can do that, they could be more apt to choose those studies and careers. It boils down to bringing awareness on these different jobs to show the great impact that STEM jobs can have. And the more women we have in these careers the more young girls will see themselves as being able to do it too.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

There are so many myths I want to dispel: that women aren’t as capable in STEM or tech, that women are better at soft skills and there is no need for these skills in a STEM or tech career and the biggest one — that the gender STEM talent gap has been solved.

When looking at tech careers more generally, the myth that tech jobs are highly binary — that you sit behind a screen staring at numbers all day — is a misperception that needs to be addressed. STEM and tech are such dynamic fields — and in today’s ever-changing world, these careers can make real positive impacts on the world.

I think these “myths” start early too — before girls are out of school. Once young women get to the high school age, their overall confidence decreases significantly — be it questioning their overall smarts or their abilities in STEM-related courses. This age group, and those even younger, need additional support and encouragement to boost their confidence overall — and within STEM specifically. We need to highlight how STEM careers tap into the left brain and/or highlight how these careers extend into other interests (e.g., coding as a foreign language) to flip the script on STEM.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Be heard.

There was a time when I didn’t feel like I had a voice at the table. But I had big ideas to share! So rather than sharing my ideas, I shared them with a colleague who was more vocal. It didn’t take long to realize that person was getting credit for my ideas. That caused me to find my voice, and, in turn, my power at the table where I belonged. I encourage all my teams to make sure they are heard, know that they belong and their opinions are critical.

Take Thoughtful Risks.

Throughout my career I have learned that the way to positively contribute is to push for change and take risks. And I’ve also learned that most people don’t want to do that. Challenging the status quo is critical to gaining success but it isn’t easy! It is easy to wait until you have everything figured out to act but then we would never act. So my thinking has been:

  • analyze the situation and understand why it is what it is
  • look for data to help guide your thinking
  • ask a lot of people for their opinions
  • weigh out the pros and cons
  • get everyone aligned
  • ACT and course correct!

Find Your Passion — because as Steve Jobs said “people with passion can change the world.” I believe this fully.

Do the Right Thing — and isn’t it true that the right thing never seems the easy thing? I have learned and encourage my teams to let your moral compass be your guide. Always stay true to this and you will be successful in life.

Pay it Forward — I have been given many blessings in life, some simply because of where and to whom I was born. Helping others to change their fate is key and isn’t that the highest form of leadership?

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Embrace the unknown.

When I was first approached to move from programming to be a part of the financial team, for instance, I thought maybe there was a mistake. I had never been in finance or taken classes. But, I realized that if management had faith that I could be successful in that very different role, that I needed to have faith in myself as well. I was able to get excited to add a new skillset to my wheelhouse. And yes, it took a lot of hard work, but I took the challenge head on.

Stay curious.

Asking why is as important as bringing a solution to the table. There have been many times when the best solution I, and my team, has been able to find is by asking why things are in the current state or what led to it.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

One of my bosses used to tell me “there are a thousand people in this world and everyone else is fill.” I always found it to be a funny expression. It means that you must create a culture that enables everyone on large teams to move in the same direction, be aligned to your vision, and be motivated and passionate about your world. People are everything and culture is the means by which all good things happen. Keep that at your core and your teams will feel and follow it.

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?

Hands down my mother. She instilled in me that I could do anything and there were no barriers in life. She told me that I could indeed change the world. She showed me that working hard created success. She modeled strong ethics and that the right thing is always in style no matter how hard it is. I watched as she challenged status quo thinking and didn’t accept no for an answer. She was a very accomplished woman (one of the first Nurse Practioners in Missouri) in a time and a field that wasn’t easy for women.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One of my biggest focuses has been working to get more women in the tech workforce and fostering the talent we already have.

At Mastercard, we’ve created programs like Girls4Tech to make a difference by showing young girls real-world challenges and allowing them to develop solutions — these programs aim to help expose them to their own STEM abilities and help them become the problem solvers of tomorrow. We also believe in working together and raising each other up through Business Research Groups like our Women’s Leadership Network.

One of my favorites examples of using my forces for good is when I spoke to a group of lobbyists on behalf of Mastercard. I looked around the room and saw a sea of men listening to what I was sharing. I took that opportunity, based on my title and success which led me to have their ear, to ask them to go home that night and tell their daughters, their neighborhood girls, that they met the person who runs Mastercard network — -and she’s a woman! And they can do that too. It may seem like a small thing, but it was a time when I realized that my voice could help to change how young women look at what their path can be.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I truly believe we have a crisis on the planet when it comes to girls not pursuing STEM studies and careers. In a decade, 80% of jobs will be STEM jobs. We have an obligation to change the STEM study and career gap in the next generation. If we don’t, it’s not just about women in STEM and diversity of thought in technology and business decisions; the generation of girls will be unemployable. If I could inspire anything, and I’m working on it, it’s to show girls they have everything it takes to be successful in STEM studies and careers and show them how they can change the world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” (Dr. Seuss) Isn’t it so true that we get to choose what we make of our life. We just need the confidence and motivation to do it!

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Unfortunately, I won’t get the chance to sit down with this person, but it would be Dr. Seuss! I know it sounds silly — but he had such perseverance. Did you know his first book was rejected 27 times before it got published? He also had a passion for making change. He believed what was available to children was too boring and wanted to enable more children to get excited about reading. He also used his gifts to share messages with the world — like his book, Butter Side Down, which speaks about embracing diversity and, The Lorax, which speaks to saving the planet. He was a real catalyst for change and I truly admire his work.

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