CMSPI Celebrates Women in Payments
We're celebrating "Women in Payments" from different departments across CMSPI. Hear from some of our female leaders on how they got started in the payments industry, benefits of women in leadership positions, experience with mentorship, and more!
- Elley Frost, President
- Angie Grunte, Head of Network, Acquirer and Gateway Relationships
- Martha Southall, Global Market Insights Manager
- Prashani Samaraweera, Senior Payments Analyst & Team Lead
Can you tell me a little about your background and how you got started in the payments industry?
"Prior to CMSPI, I had just finished my degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University. I’d tried out a lot of different areas of work, including refugee services within the British Red Cross, international development consulting, journalism, and teaching. I was looking to find a career that combined my interest in politics with the skills I had picked up from my studies. A friend reached out to tell me he loved the people at CMSPI so much that I should interview there, and I joined as an Economics Analyst in 2020."
Elley: "I got my undergraduate degree in mathematics, so I was looking for a role that incorporated my skills. I actually thought I was going to join an accounting firm, and I came across CMSPI. I was intrigued by this relatively small company who managed cash transactions for large retailers.. (It was only cash at the time). After a couple of years of me being with the company, we pivoted to bring in expertise around credit cards and debit cards and haven’t looked back. So, it was almost by accident I suppose that I got into the payments industry, and here I am 20 years later!"
Angie: "I was working for a bank in the Pacific Northwest and had recently completed my MBA when a friend approached me with an opportunity to join a boutique payments advisory start-up. I was intrigued. After speaking with the company’s two co-founders, I decided to make the ‘leap’ from banking to payments. I (incorrectly) assumed it would not be much of a ‘leap’. I was wrong but in the very best way."
Prashani: "I’m a Senior Payments Analyst and Team Lead, and I sit on the wider Analyst team. I grew up in Rome, Georgia, and I went to the University of Georgia, where I graduated with a degree in Finance. After college, I applied to Analyst jobs in Atlanta, found CMSPI, and accepted my first job out of college as a Payments Analyst! Since then, I’ve been at the company for two years, and I’m excited to see where my career goes as the industry evolves."
What are the benefits to having women in leadership? How can women develop their leadership skills?
"I’ve been very fortunate in the fact that I’ve had women around me throughout my career who have encouraged me and lifted me up, while also pushing my boundaries and enabling me to grow. I think it’s important for women to advocate for each other and I certainly know I’ve benefitted from the support and inspiration of other women in leadership both in CMSPI and through outside networks. I highly encourage participating in CMSPI’s Mentorship Program if you’d like the opportunity to have regular 1-1 coaching sessions with leaders in the business."
Angie: "Having women in leadership roles helps foster collaboration and innovation, serves as the catalyst for change while at the same time bringing balance and perspective. I think organizations, and industries for that matter, benefit significantly from having leaders with a dynamic vision and ability to bring people together. I believe women often bring a different perspective and approach and they excel in challenging the status-quo, fostering innovation and cultivating excellence."
Martha: "I’ve found women leaders to be crucial throughout my academic and working life. Beyond providing inspiration for other women who have historically been underrepresented in certain sectors, I’ve found that proactively supporting all forms of diversity allows us to celebrate different types of communication and see things like consensus-building techniques as strengths rather than weaknesses."
Prashani: "Only 10% of all Fortune 500 companies are led by a female CEO, just one in ten! The question shouldn’t be why we should have women in leadership – instead, it should ask why there aren’t enough women / POC in leadership and what we can do, so that everyone is (and feels) empowered to take on leadership roles.
My second interview with CMSPI was conducted all by women in CMSPI leadership roles, and this resonated with me because for one, of all the other ‘Finance-y’ jobs I applied / interviewed for, all of my interviewers were male, so CMSPI stood out in that regard. Two, from the perspective of an entry-level hire, bright-eyed and eager to advance their career – it’s comforting to be able to look at senior leadership and see people that look like you, that relate to you and can speak to you on a deeper level than payments! This makes people think ‘Hey, that could be me one day if I work hard enough!’ And that’s exactly how you should feel – that leadership roles are based on merit alone, and what you look like and how you present yourself has no weigh-in on whether you’re able to lead a team.
Women in the payments industry can develop their leadership skills by stepping outside of their comfort zone – putting themselves and other women forward for leadership roles, remaining confident in what you and other women bring to the table, etc. That being said, I don’t think that women need to acquire a specific set of skills to lead as a woman – instead, I believe it’s on leadership to treat women’s skills equally to that of men’s, to consider them equally capable for leadership roles within the business."
Can you speak to your experience with mentorship? How important is mentorship to grow as a leader?
"I have been very fortunate to have a mentor who has helped me evolve professionally and navigate my career. My mentor challenged me to grow, helped me visualize my goals and pushed me to step outside of my comfort zones. I attribute so much of my success to my mentor. I would not be where I am today without them."
Elley: "I've been lucky enough to have mentors in my career who supported me and encouraged me to develop. One of my biggest sponsors and mentors has been Brendan. I think the role of a great mentor is to encourage you, but also to make you look at yourself and understand your weaknesses and your strengths - and play on your strengths. I use this phrase a lot, but 'Know your value'. I think women tend to focus on their weaknesses too much, when we should flip that on its head and concentrate on our strengths. And when you've got a good mentor in the business, they'll help you see that and push you in the direction you need to go."
Martha: "Mentorship has come in lots of different forms for me – from a five-minute chat to structured initiatives. I can honestly say that I haven’t made a single achievement without a more senior person taking time out of their day to give words of encouragement, lend me the right phrasing, or open a door I thought was closed."
Prashani: "I’ve been mentored by three women during my time at CMSPI (as part of the formal CMSPI Mentoring Program), plus a few informal mentors along the way. Understanding other people’s experiences in the business has allowed me to gain perspective about work and life, alongside a deeper understanding of the business and its priorities.
Each of them has been able to speak to their unique career paths, which has allowed me to shape my own. I’ve been training up to be a People Manager in the last few months, so managing people has become a huge focus of the conversations that I’ve been having with my mentors. It’s been useful to have insight into my mentors’ management styles. My mentors have acted as a soundboard as I develop my own management style, so that I can use their learnings to avoid common mistakes, etc."
How do you balance your career, personal life and passions?
"CMSPI is a fast-paced work environment, no doubt, but we have to move fast to keep up with payments! To foster a sustainable work-life balance, I’ve found that it’s important to compartmentalize each area of my life, so that at any given point, I’m giving all of my attention to the one thing I’m focusing on at that time. Easier said than done, but it helps me manage the stress of juggling competing priorities. “Do this now, do that later…” versus “I have so much to do!"
Elley: "Number one, it's difficult with two small children. I don't think I have the secret sauce by any means. Ensuring our children have a fun and fulfilling life is most important and we ensure that we use our weekends to make that happen. The one challenge is getting time for personal passions outside of work - that's a real thing. I have an executive coach and that's one thing she's been drilling me on is.. "what are you doing for yourself?" and that's important to remember. As a working parent in a leadership position, it's essential to have that time for you."
Angie: "I don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘balance’. Instead, I am learning to be present in the moment and focus my energy on each aspect of my life as it happens. I have become more structured in carving out time for my family and passions. This helps me recharge and refocus professionally as well."
Martha: "Remembering that there is no such thing as getting everything out of the way, and that it’s in everyone’s best interest to have you at your most productive and healthy."
What one piece of advice would you give to women in our industry?
"Push yourself outside your comfort zone, say yes to things that make you feel uncomfortable, but most importantly Know your value! Concentrate on your strengths, and make sure you have a seat at the table."
Angie: "Use your voice and pursue your passions. Anything is possible with perseverance and dedication. Also, take advantage of the wisdom and experience shared by leaders, mentors and those you respect. You can learn a lot through the experiences of others. Use this to help shape your path but always remember to trust your gut and stay true to you."
Martha: "Confidence doesn’t always mean competence! This goes both ways: you don’t need to know everything to help the people you’re working with, and it’s the job of everyone around you to hear quieter voices."
Prashani: "There have been employment studies that show that men are more likely to apply for jobs that they’re only 60% qualified for based on the job description, whereas women will only apply for jobs that they meet 95%+ of the job requirements. All of that to say is that if you’re a woman in the workforce, you should be putting yourself forward for roles occupied by men with equivalent skills and tenure. Oh, the role you want is already filled or doesn’t exist? If you’re doing your job well, and you’re trying to level up, CMSPI fosters the kind of environment that empowers you to create opportunities instead of waiting for one to present itself. Hone your skills and expertise, initiate/join strategic conversations across the business, make and speak to your contributions, and above all, don’t prematurely take yourself out of the game. That is, if you apply for an internal leadership position, the worst that can happen is that you don’t get it, but even so, you’ll likely come of out that experience with feedback to internalize and take back, plus the team recruiting for the position will know of your interest and have you in mind for future opportunities. Sounds like a win-win to me!"