Tech& Women: Interview with Tarryn Brennon

SIIA is celebrating Women’s History month by profiling innovative women thought leaders in the AI, ed tech and the privacy space. We’re proud to profile Tarryn Brennon, SVP, Chief Privacy Officer & Associate General Counsel for Pearson. She oversees a central team and global network of privacy champions that socialize and report on the state of privacy within their respective businesses as well as advises the board and executive leadership and other stakeholders on regulatory requirements and critical privacy initiatives.

What is your current role?

As Chief Privacy Officer for Pearson, I am committed to fostering a culture of privacy allowing us to garner and maintain the trust of learners using our products and services. I oversee Pearson’s global privacy program. I also provide strategic advice and guidance to Pearson’s Audit Committee, executive management and key stakeholders and advocate for pragmatic privacy legislation and practices.

What’s your favorite part of the role? (It can be nerdy.)

Shattering the myth that privacy is only for nerdy lawyers and tech geeks and making the case that it is a team sport with a position for each of us to play.

What are some of the roles you’ve held in the past?

I started as a commercial lawyer for various Pearson businesses. I also worked as a transactional lawyer and commercial litigator in private practice. Before that, I was a certified public accountant and internal auditor.

Describe what you did in these roles

As a commercial lawyer, I launched Pearson’s U.S. product safety compliance program and represented Pearson before the Consumer Product Safety Commission as part of a broader delegation of the Association of American Publishers.  I also supported Pearson’s product and sales teams on a wide range of transactions and legal claims.

When I was an associate in private practice, I represented clients on a variety of transactional and litigation matters, including a litigation against a sovereign nation resulting from a maritime casualty.

As CPA and internal auditor, I engaged with executive and plant management to evaluate operational and financial processes and systems, report findings and related recommendations for improvement.

What was something you learned that you still use today?

The art of effective listening – listen with purpose to what is stated and what’s left unsaid.

Is there anything you would go back and do differently?

In the earlier days of my career, I would be more audacious about owning my greatness and pursuing my ambitions rather than waiting for others to take notice.

 What is something unique about your work style?

Colleagues have said that the attributes that make my work style most effective are my transparency and ability to engender trust and partnership.

How and why did you get interested in the tech field?

As a commercial lawyer, I started to notice that the regulatory landscape was evolving at a rapid pace and customers were setting greater expectations about how companies handled their personal information. I became intrigued by the opportunity to take the growing patchwork of requirements and create a global privacy program that colleagues could understand and execute.

How do you think we can advance opportunities and recruitment for women, who are traditionally underrepresented in privacy, AI, and tech policy?

We have seen the formation of not-for-profit organizations focused on advancing and supporting women in privacy and security over the past decade. However, I think it’s fair to say, that the for-profit world could be more intentional about exposing women to potential opportunities in these areas. For example, corporate organizations could create internal or external secondments in privacy, recruit women to become privacy champions, engage women leaders to sponsor privacy initiatives, or partner with associations that promote and support the advancement of women in privacy or technology.

Where do you see the greatest opportunities for women in 5, 10 and 15 years?

With the prominent rise of women in privacy, including leaders such as Helen Dixon (Ireland), Angelene Falk (Australia), and Elizabeth Denham (United Kingdom) who have served as the data protection commissioner in their respective countries, I expect a continuing upward trajectory for women in privacy for decades to come.

What is one piece of advice you wish you had known when you were starting out?

It’s okay to be you.

What is your organization doing to build mentorship opportunities for women and minorities who are interested in the field?

One of the things we have done at Pearson is to form a Women in Technology Employee Resource Group to celebrate, empower and develop women, including through mentorships, to succeed in their careers in technology.

How is your organization building professional development opportunities?

Pearson partners with global organizations and professional networks, through its Women in Learning and Leadership and other various employee resource groups, to sponsor business leadership programs and provide coaching and mentoring.

What are some of the professional development opportunities or people that have made the greatest difference to you and your career?

I attended a session at the Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s 2017 Diversity Conference called Women & Power: Getting Ambitious Ambition. I listened to a panel session of three phenomenal women at the top of the careers describe their individual career paths. I realized that I had heard many of their comments before, but this time they resonated with me in a different way. It was like a newsflash. Own your own greatness! Stop vetting yourself against lists and others. Stop waiting for someone to take notice of your [fill in the blank]. Stop second guessing yourself. Be bold and own your own greatness!

How does your organization contribute to the industry at large?

Pearson contributes to the development of policy and best practices for the use of personal information as a member of SIIA, Future of Privacy Forum and Centre for Information Policy Leadership.

Are there any non-work activities you engage in that lift women in professional settings?

I’ve volunteered with community groups and organizations, such as VIP Community Services and the National Federation of the Blind to mentor and lead resume and interview prep workshops for women entering or re-entering the workforce.

What book inspired you?

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Tell us something people might not know about you.

The movie Jerry McGuire inspired me to attend law school.


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