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 London Biggs, RELX State Government Affairs Director, Western Region.
What is your role and responsibilities?
Currently, I oversee legislative, regulatory, and business development initiatives, as well as contract lobbying activity in 8 western states on behalf of a world-leading provider of digital information and analytics tailored toward private sector businesses and government agencies. Some key policy interests of mine include data privacy as well as public records access.
Favorite part of your job?
It is said that “the law is politics and politics is just people” and that really resonates with me. Working with the human aspect of lawmaking is my favorite and probably most challenging part of the job. The personalities and unlikely collaborations, it’s what keeps things interesting.
Nerd alert. There aren’t many issue areas that I don’t find interesting in my role. I think it’s pretty cool that I work for a company that’s involved in developing and deploying technology solutions that keep us focused on the latest policy conversations around biometrics, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and everything else that you can fit under the umbrella of data privacy.
What are some of the roles you’ve held in the past?
Prior to joining RELX, I was the Legislative Director at the California State Assembly and a Senior Consultant to the California Senate Budget Chairman.
What did you do in these roles?
Staffing the Assembly Member and Senator on their various bill packages, preparing vote recommendations for legislative committees, drafting letters and issue statements, as well as researching proposed legislation consistent with the member’s policy priorities.
What was something you learned that you still use today?
While working at the Capitol in California, I often researched complex issues over weeks or even months and then had only a few minutes to prepare my Senator on speaking intelligently on that issue in a high-pressure setting. To have the highest success in those “speed briefing” situations, I learned a very important lesson – there is no such thing as overpreparation. The exercise of mentally anticipating questions and taking the time to actually develop responses to those questions has become a habit that has helped me tremendously over the years. Even though I never came to love the Senator’s “walk and talk” sessions, they helped me learn to deconstruct issues ahead of time and distill my talking points down to only the most critical pieces of information.
There’s sometimes a perception government affairs folks love to hear themselves talk and are “just winging it.” There’s no doubt that preparation is the most effective weapon in the advocacy arsenal.
Anything you would go back and do differently?
I was once criticized by an executive who said that I was “too loyal” and had wasted opportunities by staying at a single job more than two or three years. Today, I see all kinds of younger government affairs folks jumping from company to company, likely upgrading their job title and increasing their salary. Perhaps, they’re doing it right. I don’t know if I would go back and do anything differently because there’s always something to be said for having a good boss and knowing that your contributions are valued. Here I am, after seven years at RELX, repeating history, with a fabulous boss and an excellent work-life balance.
What is something unique about your work style?
I’m technologically sentimental. I know a lot of people are on the newest phones and gadgets — I get attached to my devices. I prefer to do my work on my oldest company issued laptop. It’s practically on life support in a docking station that I’m pretty sure they don’t even make anymore.
Has this field always been your passion? If so, why/how did you get interested in it?
Thankfully, during my time in Sacramento, a government affairs person working for a prominent technology company sat me down and asked me my plans for my future. When I told him I was thinking about contract lobbying, he blew my mind by saying, I didn’t want to be a contract lobbyist, that I actually wanted to be the boss of the contract lobbyist. After that, I started to discover how government affairs folks working within companies are able to develop policy expertise to directly influence those same conversations taking place in the capitol offices and hallways.
What are your top predictions for the field in 2022?
Obviously, we are seeing omnibus privacy bills pop-up everywhere, not just in blue or red states, but everywhere. We are also seeing legislators talking about looking at existing issues through a new “equity lens.” So, we are no longer talking about just the technology itself, but it’s impact on specific demographics. A good example of this is the artificial intelligence legislation that is out there and the discussions involving algorithmic accountability.
How do you think we can advance opportunities and recruitment for women, who are traditionally underrepresented in privacy, AI, and tech policy?
Some of these policy areas can be intimidating, but it’s helpful for the women who are already in these roles to look for opportunities to share what they actually do on a daily basis and how they came to be experts in their field. For younger professional women who are just starting out, sharing real-world examples of different career paths can help with recruitment by demystifying the barrier to entry.
Where do you see the greatest upcoming opportunities for women?
The pandemic’s removal of the “stigma of remote work” has changed the game in employment opportunities for women. As a mother of two very young children, I appreciate the flexibility that remote work offers. Professional women are able to take advantage of career opportunities in other states and even other countries where they were previously geographically stuck.
What is one piece of advice you wish you had known when you were starting out?
Cultivate your strengths. Ask for feedback early and often. Beware the blind cc. Honestly, in my case, I spent a little too much time waiting for mentors to push me into stretch assignments and hoping I would get chosen for merit-based opportunities rather than just putting myself out there. When opportunities arise, make sure the high standard you’re holding for yourself, doesn’t bar you from entry all together.
What is your organization doing to build mentorship opportunities for women and minorities who are interested in the field?
We know that diverse, inclusive cultures are higher performing and drive more innovation. So, it’s not surprising that RELX has launched numerous mentorship programs including the “Networx Mentorship for Diversity and Equity” designed to help mentees grow their professional networks, learn to navigate workplace challenges, develop confidence and leadership skills, and plan next steps in their career journey. RELX also has more than 100 Employee Resource Groups across the business, focused on a range of inclusion priorities including gender, race and ethnicity, age, LGBTQ+ and disability.
Is your organization building professional development opportunities? How?
I’m thankful for the opportunities RELX has provided me to learn from world-class female mentors. As part of a project in California last year, I was able to receive policy insights directly from Kumsal Bayasit, the current CEO of Elsevier and former Chief Strategy Officer for RELX. (She was named among the top 10 best CEOs for women for large companies and one of the best CEOs for diversity by an independent compensation, culture, and career monitoring site in 2021. The ratings are based solely on employee sentiment.) Seeing her in action was an inspiration and has had an impact on my own professional development.
How does your organization contribute to the industry at large?
I’m proud of my company for its strong stance on the use of data and technology for good. It’s not just words, it’s actions. During the pandemic, when our healthcare systems were completely overwhelmed, not only in the US but everywhere around the world, Elsevier, is a division of RELX, responded by developing a platform allowing its entire compendium of scientific research on the Covid-19 from the world’s most prestigious medical journals to be freely accessible to healthcare workers across the globe and the public.
Are there any non-work activities you engage in that lift up women in professional settings?
As a mom of two under 3 years of age, I’ve struggled with finding time for extracurricular activities that don’t involve my children. One thing I was able to continue during the pandemic was participate with a virtual forum for professional women — a safe space to ask questions and get feedback on issues that cut across all types of jobs such as salary negotiation, job application, and dealing with direct reports or managers. I’ve seen diversity of opinions really do make a difference. I hope this year will bring more opportunities to network with other professional women face to face.
What are you reading?
I’ve recently come across Rick Steve’s “Travel as a Political Act”. It’s about the importance of keeping the world connected. Travel doesn’t just have to be a vacation but can be something important that brings people together and helps build understanding. We’ve felt the weight of that with Covid going on. The pandemic has made travel seem like it’s too difficult to attempt, but this book reawakens the pleasure of possibility and has me looking forward to dusting off my passport and making some real cross-cultural connections.
Tell us something people might not know about you.
I was admitted to the School of American Ballet in New York City by live audition when I was younger. To help deal with stress during the pandemic, I enrolled in a socially-distanced Irish dance class and learned to do an actual “Jig” which is something I’ve always wanted to do.