Data protection and security lawyer, Cristina Cojocaru, senior legal counsel for data privacy at Huawei, talks with PrivSec about the benefits and challenges of being a woman in the increasingly high profile field of data protection and security.
What technical skills are most useful to adopt as privacy and security fields become more intertwined?
As the privacy function gets extended beyond the traditional set-up when many were treating the Data Protection Officer as merely an IT role with no legal experience or as a compliance professional with no real understanding of security risks, I would say that different types of skills are needed: starting from the basic education in the field of data protection and privacy and understanding the basic technologies, continuing with a good understanding of the new technologies in the digital area, knowledge of the digital rights, and specific privacy and security measures adopted by different industries.
Nevertheless, any privacy professional should have a good understanding of the technologies used and the basic security measures such as data encryption techniques, the data flows and diagrams. As well as the threats and risks associated with different levels of data processing it is also important to know the most up-to-date data protection and security regulations. In addition to the necessary technical skills, I would add that a high degree of adaptability to the new changes, a good understanding of the business, and having a holistic view are useful in order to be a good professional in the data privacy field.
Is there a pressure for women to advance faster than their male counterparts in terms of technical skills?
I wouldn’t say that there is a pressure for women to advance faster than their male counterparts in terms of technical skills, but we should acknowledge the root causes for not having the right balance from this perspective. Even if we all know that success in business is enhanced by diversity in the workplace, the average number of females in technical fields is notably below the average number of males.
As an example, if we look at the research studies about women working within the computing and digital technology sectors, the low rate of women employment is highly influenced by the lack of women choosing to pursue technical related subjects at high school and university. However, the demand for computing professionals is continuously increasing. So, at the end of the day it’s a matter of our own choices, as an example any privacy professional can complete a course from ISC to understand better the information systems.
If we’re looking from the perspective of your first question, there is a requirement to have a good level of understanding not just of the legal requirements but also of the technical measures such as encryption methods to protect personal data. Therefore, some women might feel pressure from their colleagues from technical departments to know about things like firewalls and network load balancers. But as long as any woman working in data privacy has a good understanding of the business, if she can understand the company’s security setup from a holistic view, and the security main challenges, she shouldn’t feel pressure regarding her technical skills.
I would add that the eagerness to understand the technical aspects and to examine them from all sides will make the difference for women working in this area. I have worked in different global companies, in different industries, and I have never felt such a pressure. Even in my current role, within an innovative company, working with many men – I don’t feel any obstacle.
In terms of networking, what tips can you give to women starting their careers in the privacy field?
I would advise any young professional to join the dedicated professional groups on LinkedIn, to join any network event possible – online events are very easy to attend nowadays. More women-focused networking events and clubs have been created in the recent years, so we have some good opportunities to connect with other professionals and share ideas. Also, there are many women in privacy, incredible professionals, who are happy to share their knowledge and to provide support whenever possible. Don’t miss any chance to connect with people sharing the same professional interests, even if you cannot meet them personally or work with them directly.
For the long term, my advice is to be genuinely involved, passionate and really interested in professional networking. To build a valuable network, you need to continuously develop yourself professionally. Be informed about the latest trends in your profession, be a reliable professional and build a good reputation. Even if this takes time, we all know that the right recommendations can weigh more than the best written CV.
What tips do you have on finding an uncharted area in privacy?
I think that Artificial Intelligence is one of them, if not the most important one, since it covers multiple areas. As artificial intelligence evolves, will the authorities be able to regulate, control and monitor how AI is being developed, integrated and upgraded in such a way that will allow future digital development while ensuring the needed protection of our data privacy rights? Will such regulations be able to impose similar standards globally?
What is something you wish you knew sooner about being a woman in privacy?
I could list two things. The first one is that it’s okay to follow your gut; no amount of education can replace the insight you have in a specific situation. Also, considering that I started working as a data privacy lawyer in the mid-2000s, I would have appreciated knowing that practicing data privacy involves a high volume of study on other complementary areas such as IT security.
What are the main obstacles that remain for women in privacy despite their being equal access into the field?
One obstacle that could be faced mostly by the young women in privacy is that, sometimes, they might feel that they are not taken seriously in discussions with senior professionals with a technical background, mainly when the woman in discussion has a legal background. Even so, with patience, determination, the right skills and sustaining their professional opinions in a very clear and wise manner, women in privacy can benefit from a successful career.
Based on my professional experience, women have a specific advantage: their soft skills. Nobody should underestimate this aspect since in many cases, data protection professionals have to communicate complicated subjects to people with a different background. Soft skills such as excellent presentation and communications skills, the ability to clearly articulate complex concepts, and the use of active listening skills will make the difference.
From another perspective, an obstacle for women could be managing the necessary time to focus on the professional part while taking care of their family. Considering that a solid professional should always be on top of the new laws and trends in the data privacy and security areas, adding also the work volume in the big, global companies, this could be a challenging situation for women working in privacy.
Finally, I would like to emphasize the importance of finding a good mentor, mainly for young professionals. I think it’s essential for any new woman in privacy to have the chance to benefit from a mentor. When I joined the telecoms industry, I was lucky enough to have a fantastic lady as my mentor. She was the Data Protection Officer at the time and she shared all her knowledge with her team members, empowering each of us. At the same time, one of the professional satisfactions through my career is that one of my first trainees, a young, hard-working, bright lady that applied to be my trainee before she graduated the university, is now a very successful DPO for a major European financial Institution. She worked hard and she evolved step by step and today she is one of the many successful women in privacy.
To register to watch Cristina Cojocaru, Nina Barakzai, Alison Howard, Tash Whitaker and Debbie Reynolds’ webinar, “Women in Privacy: Practicing Pragmatic Privacy in a Large Organisation”, on 30 July at our upcoming Last Thursday in Privacy event, click here.
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