Mastercard's Donna Johnson: Why Diversity Doesn't Work Without Inclusion

"Our goal at Mastercard is to build a global and collaborative culture of inclusion," said Chief Diversity Officer Donna Johnson.

By Donna Johnson, Chief Diversity Officer at Mastercard Worldwide


Diversity has been a central focus in my life long before it became a ubiquitous buzzword in corporate America. You could call it a family affair – my father, sister and brother have all been champions of diversity throughout their careers in advertising, law and architecture. You can imagine the conversations we've had around the dinner table!

For me, taking up this mantle was never really a choice – it has always been a passion and maybe some would say a calling.

Donna Johnson

After starting my career as an account manager at BBDO ad agency and then in marketing management at Citicorp, I joined Mastercard 21 years ago as director of retail acceptance development.

Mastercard was a very different company in those days. As demographics, in the U.S. in particular, began to shift and consumers became more diverse, it was important that our workforce reflected this change. Research has shown that companies with a diverse workforce perform better financially and Mastercard recognized early on that increasing diversity was not only the right thing to do, it was a business imperative.

It's a common misconception that the primary role of a Global Diversity Officer is to bring more diverse employees to work for their company. My job is actually to create a welcoming environment where all types of people want to be here because it's a fantastic place to work. It's a subtle but important difference.

Most people get diversity – they understand what it means to have a diverse mix of people seated around the table. What they often struggle with is inclusion - listening to what each individual has to say and valuing that person's opinion, which may be different from your own.

Too often we pass judgment on experiences which we've never lived. Our goal at Mastercard is to build a global and collaborative culture of inclusion where these unique experiences are welcomed, not judged. Where all individuals feel respected, are treated fairly, and have an opportunity to excel.

Group selfie with Deepti Dhapola and the Global Diversity Office (From left: Donna Johnson, Arlene Gonzalez-Pagan, Soo Mentor and Chris Mitchell) at the Global Inclusion Summit in Purchase, New York (May 2016).

Importantly, our diversity strategy must align with our business. That is why my team in the Global Diversity Office (GDO) has a direct reporting line into the business under our General Counsel Tim Murphy.

It's why we have eight Business Resource Groups, with 64 chapters in 30 locations around the world for employees to gather and share unique insights to drive innovation and advance our business.

It's also one of the reasons Mastercard created the Global Diversity and Inclusion Council (GDIC), a group of 27 leaders from different disciplines and regions across Mastercard, who lead businesses and have roles that directly impact the organization.

The GDIC meets regularly to evaluate different programs, partnerships, and other proposals, such as our efforts to expand supplier diversity and our recent veterans apprentice program, as potential means of enhancing our diversity strategy and business results.

What I love about this group is that, on the surface, many of its members don't fit the typical bill when you think of diversity. That's because diversity at Mastercard is not just about what you look like. It's about life experiences that may have been shaped by what you look like, when you were born, where you come from, who you love, or disabilities you face. Bringing those experiences together is what creates inclusion.

In recognition of Global Diversity Awareness Month in October, we'll be sharing some of our "Faces of Diversity," highlighting a few of our GDIC members throughout the month via @InsideMastercrd on Twitter.

I'm proud to say our collective efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace have landed Mastercard in the top 10 of DiversityInc.'s Top 50 Companies for Diversity the past four years, recognition as one of 26 companies in the inaugural Bloomberg Financial Services Gender-Equality Index, and a perfect 100 from the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. But we can't rest on our laurels.

We celebrate Diversity Awareness Month because it allows people to take time to think about what diversity really means and reflect on the role inclusion plays in their lives as individuals, in their families, their communities and in their business. It's an opportunity to open a dialogue with a colleague, a friend, or a neighbor to share and learn from our respective experiences. And it's an opportunity for each of us at Mastercard to ask ourselves, "What have I done today to make this a fantastic place to work?"