Women In Privacy: An Interview with Laura Matthews

When it comes to gender representation, the Privacy field has set the benchmark in providing equal opportunities for both men and women.

Within Privacy, women are just as likely to hold leadership positions as men, which sets a strong example for women trying to carve out a career within the sector. But with Privacy thrust into the public eye following the implementation of GDPR, coupled with the issue of regulators struggling to keep up with current tech advances, we ask; is this just a symptom of a new industry finding its feet or is equal representation here to stay?

Laura Matthews is the Head Legal and Data Protection Officer at Debenhams and co-founder of Knowse (Know In-House), a networking and know-how forum for in-house lawyers. Laura sat down with FourthLine to discuss female representation within the industry and what the future looks like for women in Privacy.

 Women In Privacy i


Privacy stands out as one of the few industries that has an equal gender representation. Why do you think that is?

I think that there are generally more women in compliance. Especially in-house, as you get a flexibility in-house to have your voice heard and lead the agenda.


What motivated you to build a career in Privacy?

I started out in Privacy as a lawyer and subject matter expert before GDPR was implemented, as well as answering questions on data issues in the day-to-day business. So, when GDPR came into focus, I stepped forward as the subject matter expert on the project. It seemed like a nice contained subject that you could really get into and with the guidance from the ICO, it was an accessible area to understand.

It was also good to get involved with the marketing team and understand how the business was using data. For example, I didn’t initially understand the conversion rates from marketing, but from working with the team they showed me how Data Analytics can be really interesting in driving strategy. It was exciting because it didn’t feel like the law, it was about what the business needed and being part of a bigger picture.


What advice would you give to professionals that would like to pursue a career in privacy?

Privacy changes all the time and it is extremely beneficial to do your reading. There are a lot of opportunities within the industry to learn, whether through the British Retail Consortium, who have representatives from each retailer you can converse with, or industry workshops by people like Stewart Room. They talk your language; talking about Privacy from a business point of view rather than a legal point of view, so you can relay and understand the impacts to the business.

At Debenhams, I was vocal about the importance of Privacy to the business. I made sure that the business was as invested as much as I was through spotlighting the impact Privacy has on brand reputation. It’s a unique position as other areas of law and compliance aren’t consumer facing like Privacy is.


What have you found to be the most effective ways to embed privacy into your business?

Working in retail is very different. We aren’t like a bank that are used to regulation, so it’s a different mindset. And because we are dealing with the general public, people know their rights. So, you’ll find there is more awareness around Privacy than there was previously.

We also have Data Champions in each department who are nominated by management and they monitor each area. I got management on board by showing the value of customer data and how using it properly will save money and benefit the customer.


How do you see privacy evolving over the next five years?

Technological developments have a certain level of intrusiveness that can work against ethical privacy; such as, adding preferences to your data profile that aren’t relevant or conversations being tracked and profiled without your knowledge. There is a big push as well on bio-metrics to make payments more secure. Retail will be an industry to watch as they come up with innovative ways of selling goods; such as using technology in mirrors to demonstrate different outfits and making an avatar of your measurements for online shopping or sending push notifications with discounts to mobiles as customers get close to stores.

This interview has been condensed and edited.


If you are looking to improve your organisation’s ability to minimise and control data privacy and security risks, our Risk and Security team can help.

Or if you are looking for a new role within the Privacy sector, we want to hear from you.

Make an appointment with our consultant by clicking on the link below.


Book a call with Lauren


Topics: Legal, Data Privacy & Information Security, Talent Solutions

January 20, 2020
Talk to an expert

Lauren Webber
Written by Lauren Webber

Lauren works within FourthLine's Talent Solutions team, specialising in recruiting data protection, information security, legal, compliance and risk roles for Retail Banking clients and in-house positions within law firms.