Some of Eileen Simon’s peers at Mastercard hold general counsel titles that relate to particular regions or geographies. Simon’s position, on the other hand, reaches far and wide: general counsel, global businesses.
Far more than a mere title, Simon looks deeply at what it means to be “global” in our modern business society. In addition to her traditional legal duties, Simon uses some of her time to make a deep impact on diversity and inclusion within Mastercard as well as on individuals and communities that the company serves.
“Mastercard is a huge proponent of financial inclusion and financial education,” Simon explains. “The Master Your Card program, for example, educates financially underserved communities and groups in order to bring individuals and small businesses up to speed on building credit, using cards responsibly, and other important issues that enable them to move into the mainstream economy.”
That work deepens in emerging markets in the developing world as well, bringing people into the financial mainstream. That could mean sending representatives to refugee settlements and helping create meaningful means of identification. It could mean digitizing vaccination records in underserved communities in Africa to help families build identities. It could also mean working with farming communities to digitize the supply chain, empowering farmers who otherwise might be vulnerable due to carrying cash while walking miles with their crops.
“We’re able to use our network and our assets in order to help communities with the very basic building blocks of establishing and maintaining their identities,” Simon says. “There are countless ways in which Mastercard is making an impact in the communities we serve as well as in the developing world.”
“We’re able to use our network and our assets in order to help individuals in underserved communities with the very basic building blocks of establishing and maintaining their identities.”
In the Mastercard headquarters in Purchase, New York, Simon describes herself as an inclusive leader who dedicates as much of her time as possible to working closely with her team members and empowering them to do their best work and grow in their skills. In addition to weekly one-on-one meetings with direct reports, Simon holds regular web conferences and in-person meetings with the larger team.
“I take career development very seriously. The whole company does,” Simon says. “I always encourage leadership at all levels and ensure people are feeling empowered.”
Development also includes a commitment to connecting with communities and giving back. All Mastercard employees are given formal time off to volunteer with organizations they’re passionate about.
Simon first discovered that passion at Mastercard upon joining the organization in 1999, and she has seen it make a more meaningful impact with each passing year. The company brought Simon on board due to her background and achievements; her joint degrees in psychology and economics from the University of Pennsylvania, followed by the New York University School of Law and eight years of litigation in trade practices and regulatory law, were a good fit for the competition law challenges Mastercard was facing at the time.
“The Mastercard culture drives a willingness to share knowledge, to collaborate, to help colleagues.”
By 2006, the company changed its governance structure and went public. “It was exciting to be a part of the governance change,” she says.
The essential element of making the transition to in-house, Simon explains, came in connecting deeply with people. “Mastercard is very relationship driven. My early interactions with people in different areas allowed me to understand the company broadly,” she says. “As a lawyer in-house at a company, the relationships with your clients are just much more immediate than at a law firm.”
As she’s grown to her current role, Simon has taken responsibility for legal support of functions, including products and services, Mastercard strategic growth, marketing, operations and technology, and mergers and acquisitions.
“We are helping drive the strategy for the company in a way that also manages risk effectively,” she says. “We are guiding the company into new spaces, such as real-time payments. These advances are critical to Mastercard’s future, and our team can help navigate the new spaces effectively.”
Another important facet of the company’s future relies on honoring the diversity of the company’s customers and employees. That diversity includes diversity of background, experience, and thought; Simon has found herself particularly drawn to the Women’s Leadership Network, a cause for which she is the executive sponsor.
The group now has forty chapters across Mastercard. It offers programming for Women’s History Month, brings in inspirational outside speakers, organizes volunteer events, and aligns more broadly with the company’s gender strategy. As a working mother with a teenage daughter, Simon wants to ensure that emerging women leaders have support, tools, and role models to reach their greatest potential.
“I believe it’s incumbent upon us not just as leaders, but as people, to give back.”
Today, the Women’s Leadership Network is the largest business resource group within Mastercard. “We’ve seen tremendous progress in gender issues in the workplace, but there’s always more that we can do. We believe that diversity drives innovation,” Simon says.
“We have so many customers and participants in the Mastercard ecosystem, so diversity of experience in our employee base is critical to success,” she continues. “That diversity is enabling us to build for the future and to meet demand in the increasingly digital world.”
One thing that makes the Mastercard culture unique, she adds, is the company’s focus on the decency quotient, or DQ. “That’s what really stands out in our leadership,” she explains. “The Mastercard culture drives a willingness to share knowledge, to collaborate, to help colleagues. I believe it’s incumbent upon us not just as leaders, but as people, to give back.”
In addition to her work at Mastercard, she sits on the boards of two nonprofits dedicated to empowering women, looking to make an even greater difference in society.