Executive Women in Privacy – my recollections and reflections

This past weekwip,  I had the privilege to speak on a panel with three amazing women, Ruby Zefo (intel), Sharon Anolik (Privacy Panacea), and Debra Bromson (Jazz Pharmaceuticals) – moderated by Lourdes Turrecha at the inaugural Privacy+Security Forum in DC. Our topic: Breaking the glass ceiling – executive women in privacy.  We have all been to other presentations on this same or a similar topic, so we were determined that we would present candid, authentic, and hopefully inspirational content. I did not take notes, so we are relying on my admittedly poor memory to bring you the best of what I took away – without attribution to the speaker in an effort to preserve the safe environment.

Challenges we faced and how to overcome them:

In privacy, whether staffed in the legal department or not – it is hard for others in the business and in legal to comprehend the impreciseness of our area of law. Privacy means complying with laws/rules/regulations. We all happen to be attorneys, but privacy executives don’t have to be lawyers. Privacy is a fluid, rapidly developing, and capricious field. For us, we have faced the same challenges that most women in law face. We have faced people not knowing what the heck we are doing or aiming for. We have faced the typical challenges of working in male-oriented fields – technology, medicine, etc. And that is a situation that women in privacy face whether they are lawyers or not.

Best advice

  • Be flexible. Be creative.
  • Be business savvy.
  • Demonstrate your value. Toot your own horn.
  • Do not waste 30 seconds in an elevator with the CEO cracking a joke…be prepared with a recent accomplishment to share that contributed to the company.
  • Bring yourself to work, but keep it professional.
  • Be authentic.
  • Leave toxic environments.
  • If you are meeting with executives, be an executive presence. If you are meeting with IT, dress to fit in. You don’t have to agonize over it, but impressions count. Do they see you as one of the gang? Don’t set yourself above them just to make a point.

Is the privacy field an equal playing field for women?

In most part, yes. Some of us have not really seen the inequality in our privacy area, but it still exists within the company. We have met the “Queen Bee” – that woman who rules the roost and is unwilling to help others or share the limelight – but not really worked with such people in privacy. Okay, well, maybe we did, but it’s old school and we managed to change the situation.

In general, our technical counterparts are typically male. Learn to work with them. And in most cases, form a bonding relationship where there is mutual trust and respect (mine was my “at work husband”). Don’t be afraid to ask them to “dumb it down,” but also don’t be afraid to challenge them.

We are often still the only woman in the room. I am unapologetically feminine and proud of it. It does not mean that I am inferior. And we certainly don’t help ourselves with apologizing for being women – which is what we do when we act as if we expect to be treated as inferiors. Do we have to prove ourselves? – yes. But we already earned the position, so we deserve it. which leads to the….

Imposter syndrome

Do we feel like imposters? I do, just sitting on this panel. I am ambitious. I have been an executive and also not an executive – and not in a linear path. I have taken jobs that were a step back in rank in order to step up in expertise. All four of us came from different perspectives, but in general, the tone was that we have earned what we have. It may be a tendency of women to think that we have somehow been put in a position that we don’t truly deserve, but that is our own self-doubt and not something that anyone pushed on us.

When given more responsibility, one women faced quite a few people who asked if she was okay – was she going to be able to handle it? Her response – if I were a man, that person would have said congrats, it will be tough, but you have already shown that you can handle such responsibility. And she told him so.

Take-aways

The points to take away from this panel were that we are accomplished, qualified professionals who happen to be women. We face unique challenges, but being confident in your talents and skills will take you far. How to take that next step? Volunteer. Network. Don’t be afraid to stand up or stand out.

Be unapologetically you. As long as you are not a serial killer.

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