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About Atmia

A Passion for Payments: Breaking the Glass Ceiling in the ATM Industry

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


Donna Embry, Chief Payments Advisor for Payment Alliance International (PAI) has been breaking molds her entire career. From becoming one of the first Senior Vice President females for a financial institution to a chief executive in the ATM industry, this was no easy feat. Her journey in payments has spanned several decades and relied on a great deal of curiosity, gumption, team work...and a little bit of luck.

Embry started her career in payments in the 60s – working second shift for a bank while she earned her degree in foreign languages. But, during a time when many thought women should be clerical staff, “secretaries” or homemakers, she had confidence she would do bigger things. Upon her pending graduation in 1969, Embry approached a vice president of the bank where she was working.

“I told him I was graduating and wanted to be transferred to the International Department,” she remembers, laughing. “He was probably thinking, ‘Who is this girl?’ But he took a moment to explain that department dealt only in currency conversion and exchange rates.”  He ended up letting her take a test to join the programming department, reasoning that computer languages were sufficiently foreign.

As it turned out, it was a good time to be a part of information technologies (IT) in payments. Embry was part of programming and development when POS and ATMs first launched in the U.S. She was on the team overseeing the launch of ACH, PIN debit, signature debit, EBT, smart cards (chips) and the implementation of the ATMs at her institution. She worked purely in the IT field until 1980 – launching a career in payments and innovation stemming from her foundation in the bowels of payments.

So, what made her walk into that VP’s office rather than searching for a more degree and/or gender appropriate position? Embry credits her father for instilling the confidence she needed to step through that door.

“My father never saw a difference in gender,” she said. “He organized contact sports (football and baseball) with co-ed teams and gave me the opportunity to experience teamwork in a way most girls did not get. This was all before Title IX, the federal civil rights law which prohibit sexual discrimination.”

When asked what advice she has for other career-minded individuals, Embry cites four major requirements:

  1. Always be curious; “What if” should be your motto
  2. Teamwork matters; mentor and be mentored
  3. Have confidence in your own abilities
  4. Don’t be afraid of technology

As an IT professional with a real passion for payments, Embry is excited about the developments the future has in store for ATMs and the financial industry - citing mobile technology, proximity marketing and cardless transactions as the future of payments.

“My only regret,” she said, “is that I don’t have 50 more years to put into it.”

Help ATMIA celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ATM and the 20th anniversary of the association by sharing your stories. Contact Sharon Lane, ATMIA Global Director of Member Services, at +001-605-271-7371.

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