In terms of career highlights thus far, I am in the lucky position to love what I do, and to be able to blend my passion for gender inclusion with a career that has taken me from being a technology lawyer in the City to a data and privacy expert in financial services – roles which didn’t exist when I started out.
Through my roles as a general counsel, policy advisor and chairing multiple industry bodies (eg AFME [Association for Financial Markets in Europe], IRSG [International Regulatory Strategy Group]) and professional bodies (eg IAPP) it has been possible to help influence and shape data and privacy laws to better achieve their objectives and to avoid unintended consequences. Having our work at Thomson Reuters quoted in Parliament and subsequent changes made to the UK Data Protection Act 2018 which support the fight against financial crime was certainly a high point.
Leading Women in Banking & Finance as president and chief executive was one of the most challenging and rewarding periods in my career – having the opportunity to connect, challenge and inspire individuals and institutions across the UK and beyond, to apply gender lens to increase women’s visibility, participation and engagement in financial services at all levels. As a volunteer-led not-for-profit, I had the privilege of working with an extraordinary range of talented and passionate people from chief executives to government ministers to regulators and to members, helping them to identify the changes we need to drive to deliver the goal of a more gender inclusive sector and society. Launching the Accelerating Change Together research project in collaboration with the London School of Economics was certainly a high point, leveraging behavioural science and data to deliver insights and actions for change.
As a gender champion at Refinitiv, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to help lead the gender-inclusive transformation of our business, a highlight being when Refinitiv became one of the three sponsors of the HMT Women in Finance Charter. The data from the HMT WIFC has shone a light on the goals and progress toward gender inclusion of firms across the breadth of financial services, and fostered genuine executive accountability.
Being awarded an OBE for services to financial services and gender diversity in the 2021 Queen’s New Years Honour’s was a truly thrilling and humbling moment – a recognition only possible with the teamwork and collaboration of so many extraordinary colleagues over the years.
Data is what powers our technology and our world, making it one of the most exciting areas to work in. As we transition from the industrial economy to the digital economy, every aspect of our lives is becoming ‘datafied’, and the digital transformation is both uncomfortable and exciting. The nature of data and the opportunities and risks it raises are constantly evolving, and the challenge is not just how to keep up, but how to stay ahead.
Increasingly we are realising that data is not just for techies, and I am delighted to be drawing on my philosophy & theology degree more often than I ever thought possible as we tackle the ethical and cultural issues that data raises.
Data is the thread that runs through all other practice areas which makes it the ultimate ‘horizontal’ practice area to embrace – the opportunities to explore how data impacts everything from health, news, agriculture, weather, people and so on are endless, and data is what is going to enable our ESG goals and accountabilities. The breadth of the data space is second to none - what is there not to love about data?
As with all things data, there are so many different aspects to it. Data in the context of the internet of things, smart cities, digital identity, cyber and security, innovation, facial recognition, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, the metaverse, blockchain and crypto, governance and compliance, and of course data transfers to name but a few.
One of the biggest challenges in data law is that despite an encouraging proliferation over the last ten years of data-related laws, resulting in 2/3 of the world now having data privacy related laws, this is leading to more divergence than convergence.
This divergence makes it difficult for individuals to access digital products and services on an equitable basis in different jurisdictions, and a challenge for companies where compliance in one jurisdiction for a global service could mean inconsistency or even conflict with requirements in another jurisdiction.
The time is right to find multilateral, flexible and digitally relevant solutions to the reality of the global digital economy, and we are seeing progress in the areas of digital tax and trade. But too often we are relying on the outdated mechanisms of yesterday to address solutions of the future – we need to think differently about data and the challenges and opportunities it poses and focus on innovative solutions for data governance and sharing, many of which can be through technology, rather than law i.e. privacy enhancing technologies.
Another dimension is the different cultural approaches to data – this isn’t just a legal or financial or technical inter-operability issue. Data is increasingly and ultimately people-centric, and the impacts and outcomes of data laws for societies and economies needs to be calibrated to the accommodate the cultural perspectives.
Organisations need to be looking beyond data compliance to the creation of a holistic data culture within organisations, where each individual is responsible and accountable for appropriate data handling. When good data practices are “built in” to the operational structure and strategic objectives of organisations, we will see more consistent uses of data which will foster innovation and trust.
Too often data is not fully understood and prioritised at the C-suite and board level. Data issues are siloed into data security, data compliance, data risk, and technology, and a holistic approach is needed in order to view data strategically, to break down the siloes to ensure effective risk management and to leverage the strategic opportunities which data presents to organisations and their customers.
Digitisation and digital transformation are taking us into a new digital economic dynamic, and into unchartered realities of smart cities and the metaverse. Boards, leaders and regulators need to be thinking beyond the current siloes to the digital future which is already at our doorstep.
In short, fostering a data culture rather that a focus on data compliance, and ensuring our leaders and regulators are viewing data as a strategic issue, are the challenges which organisations need to adapt to. Through the breadth of my roles as a non-executive director, board advisory, data strategy and policy advisor, and chair of industry and network organisations focused on data, I have a unique opportunity to influence and challenge organisations and governments to think and act more holistically and strategically about data.
Data transfers are a hugely important trend which are having increasing global impact, and I am thrilled to be appointed to the UK Expert Panel on International Transfers. Digital data is, by its nature, borderless. Data can be copied, shared, accessed and used globally in ways which are so different from how tangible goods and services are consumed. Data drives technology and is the lifeblood of innovation. Data records and provides insights into our yesterday, today and tomorrow, and it can be used for good and bad. But we are seeing an increase in data localisation trends, which are seeking to restrict the flow of and access to data, with significant impacts for both the digital economy and society, specifically in the areas of innovation and transparency. Through my work with IRSG and others, we are highlighting the drivers behind data localisation (many of them genuine concerns) and suggesting ways of addressing those concerns in ways that avoid localisation, which has significant adverse economic, customer and innovation impacts. The big issue to look out for is whether we continue down the bilateral and overly legalistic route of assessing suitability for data transfers, or if we recognise the critical importance of data and start finding flexible, consistent and future proof solutions at the multilateral level. We need to build bridges rather than walls to survive and thrive in our digital world.
I am also following the evolving national and regional data strategies of the UK, EU, China and other economies, and what appears to be an absence of active engagement from the US, where so many data issues and opportunities are occurring. The world is moving ahead with initiatives to regulate AI in the EU and China, and there is an increasing political dimension to data in trade agreements. The noble ambitions of data protection are feeling increasingly like digital protectionism, which paints a very grim future.
The nexus between data and ESG is one to watch. Data sharing is key to meet the ESG agenda and to enable organisations to provide the necessary metrics to support claims of sustainability and impact. Data, both personal and non-personal, is essential to any ESG-focused assessments. We need clarity as to how such data requirements should be handled, in particular when data from disparate jurisdictions needs to be compiled and analysed – the ability to access and transfer data efficiently is key.
Digital identity and verification is an issue which has been around for a while, but is one to watch as we are faced with increasing online fraud, identity theft and deep fakes. We are pushing the boundaries of digital ID that enable verification without data sharing, demonstrating how privacy and transparency can complement. Digital ID is one of the building blocks of a resilient data economy, and so should be a priority for governments and business to address.
There is still a strong perception that data is a ‘techy’ space, which has traditionally been a male-dominated area. It can take time to change perceptions, behaviours and structures which create visible and invisible barriers to building gender equity, and this is the case in relation to data. I am often asked “What is the one thing that I can do” to deliver gender equity, and the answer is that there is no one thing. We have a sector and society that has organically developed in a way that does not support parity of opportunity for women, and so we need to address all aspects of expectation and perception. Do we think of maternity and paternity leave, or parental leave? Do we understand that flexible working isn’t just for working mothers, but for all employees? Do we think about how the language of job descriptions shapes perceptions of roles as male or female roles, effectively causing many candidates to unconsciously de-select themselves before they even apply? What behaviours do we reward and celebrate? Do we support inclusion at all levels of our organisations? Are government policies and regulators providing a level playing field and directing corporate behaviours toward inclusion and equity? How do we teach our children to view their role in the world and inspire them to achieve their potential? The list goes on!
But perhaps the biggest challenge is that all too often we still think of women in senior and leadership roles as an exception, rather than as the norm. We highlight gender before we highlight skills or achievement. While female leaders are still seen as one-offs, we won’t break down the barriers to true equity.
Things are improving for women professionals in the data field, but not fast enough! We recently recognised a number of 100-year anniversaries in the UK for women being permitted to vote, practise law, and serve in the armed forces. But when we look at the number of female MPs, female partners and senior women in the armed forces, we still fall far short of parity, which is so disappointing.
But I am optimistic that there is a renewed momentum and genuine desire to get this right, and initiatives like the Women in Finance Charter, and the obligations under the gender pay gap reporting, are shining a light on inequality and encouraging leaders to own inclusion, rather than just talking about it.
We are seeing an increasing number of amazing female role models in the data world, whether at the C-suite or as regulators, political leaders and in academia. The range of opportunities accessible to women today is extraordinary, and now we need to ensure we remove the barriers to women accessing and succeeding in those roles.
Data can help us achieve equality, as it enables as to measure where we are, to track our progress towards our objectives, provides transparency as to how we are doing, and can be harnessed hold us to account when we don’t achieve what we need to. Data has been invaluable in enabling the de-emotionalisation of the equality, diversity and inclusion agenda, and to replace assumptions with facts. Data can supercharge our ED&I efforts!
I no longer feel alone in the data world, as I am now surrounded by so many incredibly talented women. I am a great believer in recognising and celebrating talent and achievement, and at Women in Banking & Finance we have been doing just that for 25 years. The impact of awards for the recipient and for their sector is incredibly positive, and we have seen careers transformed by external recognition of achievements.
Data and diversity go together so well – diverse data is the best enabler of innovation and data powering diversity can deliver the change we seek.
A piece of advice I would give aspiring data lawyers and professionals: The data world is exciting and evolving, and I would encourage aspiring data lawyers and professionals to seize the opportunity to pursue a career in data, and help develop the narrative into one which is inclusive, and brings benefits to our society and economies. There is so much we can do with data, and we won’t always get it right. But avoiding the challenge, ignoring the risk, or shutting the door to the opportunity is not the way forward. We need a diverse range of people, bringing diverse skill sets to data to realise its full potential in the same way that we need diverse data, to develop the best solutions. Bring your curiosity, your unique self, and your integrity to the world of data, and you won’t be disappointed.