Lisa Mayr (MBA’98) on Helping Young Women Find a Voice in STEM Careers
After earning an MBA, Lisa Mayr (MBA’98) broke into the world of corporate finance. She has combined her passion for international development and working for a cause with her talent for finance throughout her career. Mayr has served as the chief financial officer at multiple technology companies, including Blackboard and EVERFI. She is active on the board of STEM for Her, helping middle and high school girls pursue STEM careers.
What made you decide to pursue an MBA at Georgetown?
I was in South Africa right after apartheid ended, and I was working with a nongovernmental organization (NGO) focused on the Black business community, helping them develop business councils for advocacy and growth. I quickly realized how important functioning business communities were to economic development and that if I wanted to have an impact, I needed to improve my skills around business. Georgetown was a logical place for me to apply due to its international focus. I originally was going to study nonprofit management, but got excited about finance, and here I am today.
Did you feel you stood out for being a woman in your program?
More than anything I felt aware of not having the depth of business experience many of my colleagues had. However, the professors and my classmates were really wonderful, and overall Georgetown helped me build confidence. Looking back, I do not believe we addressed the topic of gender as much as we should have. Being a woman in finance became a challenge later, and I wish I had focused earlier on the skills I needed to succeed. I have gone back to Georgetown a number of times and spoken with students about the challenges of being a woman in business from multiple perspectives, including being in the minority, being a working mother, and even helping male students think about how to be better allies.
What has your career path looked like since Georgetown?
After Georgetown, I was recruited into transaction services for Coopers & Lybrand, which later merged with PwC. I spent five years doing transaction services work, primarily for private equity funds. It was a really great environment. It was similar to Georgetown in the sense that I had not done this before, and I was surrounded by really smart people. I felt supported by my colleagues, who wanted me to succeed. I was a year from partner when I realized I had built enough of a portfolio by providing consulting services to all these companies that I would be really effective working for a company in house doing corporate finance. That is when I took my first corporate finance job at Willis Towers Watson, which laid the groundwork for my first role as a chief financial officer (CFO). I joined Blackboard in 2013, and the CFO I worked for became a great mentor and made sure I had seen the full array of everything a CFO has to deal with on a regular basis. Interestingly, I felt that being a woman was actually an advantage. Companies were looking for women leaders, particularly in some of the more technical roles. So when my boss left, I asked for the job and was fortunate enough to get it. This experience also showed me how important it is to have the right mentor.
How have you navigated some of those personal pressures or balance concerns that women might feel more than men?
Although my husband and I have a strong partnership, balancing was especially hard when I had younger kids. I love to tell stories (my kids laugh about this now) about how I used to juggle family life and work. One time, I had an important conference call where I was trying to close a multimillion-dollar financing round, but my husband had a business trip and my nanny was sick. I literally put the kids in the minivan in the driveway, buckled them in, put a “Teletubbies” TV show on the DVD player, and leaned against the car while I had my conference call. We closed the deal, but it was not my proudest parenting moment. After that day, I learned to do a better job at talking to my bosses and peers about what challenges I may be facing, and I also learned not to be so hard on myself when things didn’t go as planned.
Is your career today what you envisioned for yourself as an MBA student, or have you gone down different paths?
I think it has been an evolution, and every step along the way I have challenged myself to think about what is next. Certainly, when I was earning my MBA, I wanted to pursue business and work with a company that had an important mission. I didn’t know back then that I would become a CFO, so I feel very fortunate to have gotten to where I am today.
Are you involved in growing women leaders outside of your work?
I am on the board of a nonprofit called STEM for Her. A majority of job creation is coming from within the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. We do not have enough women in the pipeline, so I work with middle school and high school girls, encouraging them to pursue careers in STEM. We worked with 1,700 girls last year. I am honored to help create opportunities for these young women to be successful in STEM careers, because this is one of many ways we can close the gender pay gap.
What drove you to serve on the MBA Alumni Advisory Council?
I reached out to Georgetown a few years ago because I had more time to give back to this community, so they invited me to join the MBA Alumni Advisory Council. It has been a great experience in advocacy work for the university and to see how the program continues to evolve.
What are you most proud of achieving since your time at Georgetown?
I am most proud of the fact that I believe I may have had an impact on other women in their professional development. I have mentored a number of women in the workplace, and participated in many women-in-finance events at Georgetown. I also am incredibly proud of my nonprofit work and how that has influenced the broader community, particularly women in STEM. Most of all, I am particularly proud of my family — I have a husband who has supported me throughout my career, a confident and successful daughter, and a son who is not only successful in his own right but is a wonderful ally to women.
Is there any particular advice you would give to someone starting out in their career?
Keeping your goals out in front of you is important, but always remember there will be ups and downs to get there. I’ve gotten amazing promotions, I’ve been fired, I’ve won deals and lost deals, I’ve had good days and bad days, but I just kept reaching for my goals.
This story was originally featured in 60 Years of Alumnae: Memories, Milestones, & Momentum. In honor of Women’s History Month, purchase your copy for 50% off throughout the month of March.