My interest in data goes back much further than my professional experience. I remember ‘Enemy of the State’ being released in the 90s. The movie depicted how an innocent bystander can have his privacy violated and left a lasting impression on me. It was an early reminder of what can go wrong when privacy is not considered a human right. From early on in my career I had a passion for privacy and related legal issues, and how they intersected with the digital landscape. I initially began my career lecturing at university level before moving into the business world and focusing on fraud, risk, and privacy. Before joining TikTok, I worked with LinkedIn and eBay in Ireland and the US.
A real career highlight for me has been being part of TikTok's senior leadership team in Ireland. Ireland is strategically important for TikTok and as part of my role, I was tasked with establishing an office of the data protection officer, which has been a challenging but very fulfilling job.
I am also really passionate about diversity, so another career highlight for me was founding the Women at TikTok Europe committee; we now have over 1,000 members and counting! I have helped to drive and promote TikTok’s International Women’s Day efforts and supported the launch of the male allyship programme, which helps scale advocacy for women. I've gotten involved in other initiatives aimed at ensuring TikTok is an inclusive workplace, including the launch of the company's first UK gender pay gap report; actively participating in our global mentorship programmes and supporting the launch of our global gender equality learning series.
I think data protection and online safety laws are one of the fastest evolving areas of law. If businesses are striving to innovate and create value through the use of data, they need to navigate many complex rules and regulations. Emerging technology and legislative reform make compliance with data-related laws a moving target.
In terms of the biggest challenges, at TikTok privacy, safety and security is a big focus. This is happening in an evolving legal landscape as we see new laws come into effect including the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill. In Ireland, we've taken a very proactive approach; we announced our EMEA Trust & Safety Hub in Dublin at the start of 2020 and we established our European Transparency and Accountability Centre here, which provides insight into how we secure our community's safety, data and privacy. Dublin is also home to our first Global Security Fusion Centre outside of the US. As part of TikTok's continuous efforts to further strengthen security, we've been building monitoring, response, and investigative Fusion Centres to detect and respond to critical incidents in real-time.
Privacy and compliance are ever-evolving challenges. To me, education is key to ensuring we tackle this issue appropriately. With the support of my colleagues, I spearheaded the creation and execution of the now annual global company-wide privacy awareness month, which begins on Data Protection Day each year.
Cybersecurity, of course, remains a challenge for all sectors, evidenced by the ransomware attack on the HSE in Ireland, where I am based, in the middle of a pandemic. The tech sector has a vital role in leading in this area, and TikTok takes that role very seriously. One immediate concern is filling roles within the cyber arena: data from CyberSeek shows that almost 500,000 cybersecurity jobs across the US remain unfilled.
In terms of challenges to gender equity in the field, I am acutely conscious that on International Women’s Day in March each year a host of stats are released and it can be disheartening to read that it will still take X number of years to achieve equity in the board room or at the C-suite level. Even worse, is that the 2021 Women in the Workplace report found that the pandemic has disproportionately affected women leaders who took on more mission-critical, though often 'invisible’, work in addition to their day to day roles. While the pandemic has had significant consequences for women, the growth of more flexible ways of working has the potential to bring more women into the workforce. It is important that society and employers double down on the potential here.
When it comes to how gender may contribute to having a different perspective on data protection, it is more likely to arise in the ever-evolving area of AI where the significance of having diverse datasets to train machine learning models cannot be overstated. Recent research indicates exercising privacy rights is comparable across gender as women and men reported the same inclination to act on rights granted by GDPR. It also indicated concern for privacy does not differ across gender.
The importance of gender parity and diversity in the tech industry is better understood than 10 years ago. Data protection is a field that has a noticeably high proportion of female professionals. It may be that given its a relatively newer profession it hasn't inherited the historical gender diversity legacy issues found in other fields of law. It's also a domain that requires an incredible array of different skillsets – privacy engineers, privacy operations, privacy programme managers and many more – to collectively form a robust privacy infrastructure that also lends itself to greater diversity.
A piece of advice I would give aspiring data lawyers and professionals is: Show up authentically. Through learning to peel back the layers and be more vulnerable on a daily basis, it has led to a much more enriching work life with deep relationships and a much stronger foundation from which to achieve work objectives together.
I wouldn't be where I am today without mentors. I have been fortunate enough to have had three different external coaches at different stages of my career. Each helped me grow tremendously which greatly shaped the way I show up as a leader.
They say the hardest work you will ever do is the work you do on yourself and without knowing yourself it's difficult to strive to be the type of leader you want to be for others.