Big Data May Be Hiding Even Bigger Human Problems

22 June 2020

WireWheel's Spokes 2020 privacy tech conference examined how setting compliance milestones can be crucial to managing the psychological fallout from COVID-19 and bolstering in-house diversity.

WireWheel's Spokes 2020 privacy tech conference examined how setting compliance milestones can be crucial to managing the psychological fallout from COVID-19 and bolstering in-house diversity.

On Thursday, data protection provider WireWheel continued its two-day privacy technology virtual conference—Spokes 2020—with a series of webinars examining how compliance professionals are adapting to some of the significant cultural shifts taking place across the nation. Topics ranged from the impact of COVID-19 on privacy programs to the challenges that poor data practices pose to diversity and inclusion.

While data and tech factored into the discussion, the “Privacy Leaders Panel” spent a significant portion of its runtime mulling some of the very human problems impacting the space. Panelist Barbara Lawler, chief privacy and data ethics officer at Looker, addressed the challenges of attempting to maintain team unity when COVID-19 makes physical proximity a liability.
“I think the first thing to say to yourself is ‘we don’t know anything.’ We actually don’t know anything and that’s OK. But there’s also plenty of things that we do know. And in situation like COVID, nobody else knows anything either. And I think starting out acknowledging that is really important,” Lawler said.

From there, privacy departments can begin to think strategically about how best to proceed during the remainder of the pandemic. Lawler advised compliance professionals to think about projects or initiatives that need to be put on hold, while still continuing to establish privacy program milestones they can begin taking steps towards.

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Putting an action plan in motion isn’t just about strategy, but psychology as well. “What that also does is give people confidence when you have something to look forward to. I’ve heard it described as COVID shelter in place is a lot like the never-ending today. And what we really need is the next day and the next day,” Lawler said.

One of the milestones that privacy departments may target in light of the ongoing national discussion around systemic racial inequities is how to bolster diversity and inclusion within their organization. This includes reexamining the potential for bias in how they use and process data.

Michael McCullough, chief privacy officer and vice president of enterprise information management at Macy’s, said that organizations need to be hyperaware of how they group and categorize others, which can be especially challenging as data becomes more personalized. He urged privacy professionals to set a standard of zero discrimination and harm in their data practices.
“This mission can be supported operationally by activities like adding and maintaining equity analysis for code audits,” McCullough said.

But data isn’t always a hindrance to privacy departments or companies striving for greater diversity and inclusion. Lawler said that Looker, for example, analyzed its own hiring data to get a sense of where they could do better at fostering representation. She indicated that setting clear-cut goals—like doubling the number of women engineers, for example—was important to achieving progress.

“I think data is important … How can you look at data in a way that actually helps you understand where you stand? Understand where you can do better. And then kind of like that zero defect, you’ve got to set an incredibly aggressive high bar,” Lawler said.


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