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Visa SVP Mary Ann Reilly: “Why we need to continue to advocate for women’s equality and inclusion”

…Without doubt, women’s equality and inclusion. I have a 14-year-old daughter, which is why I am so passionate about it. I’d love this to not be a discussion or a term when she enters the workforce or whatever her path will be. Despite the amount of change we’ve already seen, there is still so much […]

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…Without doubt, women’s equality and inclusion. I have a 14-year-old daughter, which is why I am so passionate about it. I’d love this to not be a discussion or a term when she enters the workforce or whatever her path will be. Despite the amount of change we’ve already seen, there is still so much room for more, especially for women-owned small businesses. Visa-owned studies show that three quarters of women entrepreneurs (73 percent) report difficulty in obtaining the funding they needed to start their own business, with 61 percent self-funding their businesses. While the “State of Female Entrepreneurship” report also revealed that 79 percent of American women entrepreneurs feel more empowered now than they did five years ago, many still face several obstacles to growing their businesses. We want to be a part of that change, and make sure it happens on a global scale.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Ann Reilly, SVP, Head of North America Marketing, Visa. Mary Ann is responsible for driving all aspects of Visa’s consumer and client marketing in the United States and Canada, including building brand preference, performance marketing, digital marketing, sponsorship activations, client marketing and consumer-driven efforts. Reilly joined Visa from American Express, where she most recently served as the Senior Vice President, Global Brand, Integration and Insights. Reilly worked at American Express for more than 25 years, during that time she oversaw key marketing priorities including customer acquisition, business alliances, co-brand partnerships and membership rewards. Reilly was also instrumental in driving the business development and marketing for American Express’s small business brand, OPEN, establishing Small Business Saturday as a national movement that supports local small businesses. Reilly has received several industry accolades, including Working Mother of the Year from Working Mothers Magazine in 2014, “Best Marketers” from B2B Magazine in 2013 and “Top 25 Marketers” from B2B Magazine in 2012.


Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?

I originally started out in Finance as a CPA at Deloitte. Shortly after joining American Express in Finance, I was offered the opportunity to post for a position in Marketing for the team I had been supporting. From that moment I have never looked back. Along this journey, it’s been incredible to see the rise of marketing, both from a value-add and business impact perspective — with the evolution of measurement tools playing a key role in the growth (and appreciation) of the marketing profession. Additionally, I always wanted to be closer to the consumer, and with this career path I’ve been able to learn from and adapt to the customer, while integrating their needs in marketing initiatives that meet their heightened needs.

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

Since joining Visa, I’ve had the great opportunity to expand our women’s empowerment initiatives with our sponsorships of New York Fashion Week and the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT), along with the development of our She’s Next, Empowered by Visa program designed to help support and champion women business owners as they build, sustain and advance their businesses.

As part of our activations at NYFW, I’ve had the privilege to interview some amazing and inspiring women in Fashion, but I’d have to say the highlight was providing the opportunity for my daughter to meet Megan Rapinoe as part of Visa’s sponsorship with the USWNT. That definitely got me mom of the year status! But in all seriousness, I am so proud of the ways Visa is sponsoring and supporting women around the world — the female empowerment movement is something we tackle head on, and will continue to do so through global initiatives aimed to drive awareness and create lasting impact.

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?

Since you said funny, the first thing that comes to mind is not a business mistake, but involved a Christmas party my roommate and I threw in my early 20s. Her boyfriend at the time was a chef and made us a lovely tray of appetizers. I pulled the tray out of the refrigerator, it got caught in the door and all the appetizers landed on the floor. I screamed “5 second rule” and put them all back on the tray….because I believe in finding solutions and making decisions quickly. But, let me tell you, she was not happy!

Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2019, women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?

As part of our ongoing commitment to close the gender wage gap, Visa recently surveyed over 2,000 males and females between the ages of 22–37 on their current financial status and relationship with money. The survey found 2 in 3 millennial women believe there is a gender-based pay gap that can be attributed to a combination of gender role expectations and systemic issues.

Our survey respondents feel that women are penalized when becoming a parent, face more judgment than their male peers when asking for a raise and generally lack the support needed to “do-it-all.”

Through our Money is Changing program, Visa is encouraging women to get comfortable talking about their salary, research their worth/market value and feel empowered to ask for a raise or negotiate a salary. Right now, Visa is actively sharing these findings with media, partners and customers to reach female millennial audiences across the country. We have also adapted these key findings into concrete tips and tricks to be incorporated into our She’s Next, Empowered by Visa, workshop curriculum.

The She’s Next workshops are designed to provide female entrepreneurs and small business owners with the resources, career training and networking opportunities needed to get their businesses off the ground. Additionally, Visa is a proud supporter of the Equal Pay Pledge, affirming our commitment to closing the gender pay gap by providing equal pay for equal work across the U.S.

Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Support modern family planning inclusive of new models of parenting: Most women feel that workplaces don’t support working moms socially or through corporate policy. In a Visa-sponsored survey, 76% of millennial women and 75% of millennial men believe fathers are perceived as more committed to their jobs than mothers.
  2. Evolve workplace policies to create equal expectations: Expectations are undoubtedly different for a working mother and a working father. More often than not, if a father misses a PTA meeting, the conclusion is that he must be busy or stuck at work. However, common societal norms prove that if a mother misses a meeting, she is labeled as a “bad” or “irresponsible” mother. As with seemingly every cultural issue, perspectives must change with reality.
  3. Develop new tools to overcome systemic issues: 45% of millennial women say that their workplaces inadequately support family planning (e.g. childcare, egg freezing, ample maternity leave). In actuality, the lack of family services in today’s workforce equally hurts men who are family oriented. The lack of — or shorter — paternity leave sends the wrong signal to society that men are only needed in the workplace and not at home taking care of a baby — where they too can be effective.
  4. Build new models of families and relationships: Over time, traditional gender roles have blurred. Today’s millennial women are seeking true equality in partnerships, placing new expectations on men to share the important responsibilities at home. The term “breadwinner” is becoming antiquated, as more couples seek equal partner and financial relationships that are not beholden to archaic stereotypes.
  5. Amplify the female financial voice: Our study shows that millennial women feel they lack the same financial confidence as men because men are often raised to pursue financial knowledge and success, while women are seemingly encouraged to pursue more traditionally feminine interests such as beauty, fashion and romantic relationships. Our current media landscape is in a unique position in that it can provide financial content to equally serve both men and women without playing into either gender’s social norms — whether this will happen on a regular basis remains to be seen.

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.

Without doubt, women’s equality and inclusion. I have a 14-year-old daughter, which is why I am so passionate about it. I’d love this to not be a discussion or a term when she enters the workforce or whatever her path will be. Despite the amount of change we’ve already seen, there is still so much room for more, especially for women-owned small businesses. Visa-owned studies show that three quarters of women entrepreneurs (73 percent) report difficulty in obtaining the funding they needed to start their own business, with 61 percent self-funding their businesses. While the “State of Female Entrepreneurship” report also revealed that 79 percent of American women entrepreneurs feel more empowered now than they did five years ago, many still face several obstacles to growing their businesses. We want to be a part of that change, and make sure it happens on a global scale.

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

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently” — Maya Angelou. A close friend gave me a bowl with that quote on it shortly after my husband passed away very suddenly. It speaks to strength and resilience during difficult times, and is always something I try to remember.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Oprah Winfrey. I’d love to ask her about the obstacles she faced and overcame to become one of the most powerful women in the world.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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