Dominique Shelton Leipzig, Partner, Cybersecurity & Data Privacy Practice, Mayer Brown

Dominique Shelton Leipzig is a Mayer Brown Privacy & Cybersecurity Partner. Leading Global Data Innovation, she counsels CEOs and Board Members on smart digital governance. She has trained 50,000+ professionals in AI, privacy and cyber. For decades, Dominique has studied legal trends to accurately forecast digital risks and opportunities. Companies, with a collective market cap of 3 trillion USD, have benefited from her insights. Trust is her fourth book. Her articles include a Financial Times op-ed concerning cross-border transfers, that the White House adopted. She founded the Digital Trust Summit for leaders to reimagine effective data oversight. Named a Diligent Modern Governance 100 leader and a LA Times “Legal Visionary,” she has won 24 awards. A board member of the AI Governance Center and the International Association of Privacy Professionals, she is certified in privacy and board governance. Dominique is the co-founder of NxtWork, dedicated to diverse leadership.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Dominique shared her professional trajectory, insights on the No. 1 cybersecurity issue facing businesses right now, thoughts on diversity and inclusion in tech, the best piece of advice she has ever received, future plans, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Dominique. Could you explain how you came to be interested in the field of data protection?

There was not one particular touch point but rather a continuum that started with following the needs of my clients and data trends. Starting in 1999, I worked on digital data privacy issues associated with tech companies. By the early 2000s, retailers and entertainment companies started using emerging technologies and social media for digital advertising and community-building and I helped guide them through this process to capture the upside of using the technology by anticipating global legal trends to build strong governance. Around the mid-2000s, after some of the bigger retailer breaches in 2012, clients came to me to discuss cyber-preparedness and how they could heighten resilience and avoid disruptions caused by cyber-attacks.

What do you love the most about your current role?

It is hard to pick out any single thing because so much has been engaging. The moment we are in right now represents a unique opportunity for me to elevate my voice and let companies know, specifically, how they can innovate and enhance their brands at the same time.

You are also co-CEO and co-founder at NxtWork. Can you tell us about this organization, its mission and vision?

NxtWork is a nonprofit group that supports businesses’ goals of fully embracing a deliberate diverse leadership culture. NxtWork has developed a seven-step process for meaningful engagement, derived from the members’ experience building and leading diverse teams in organizations with a market cap of more than two trillion dollars.

What do you see as the No. 1 cybersecurity issue facing businesses right now?

AI is being used to usher in attacks like never before in a multitude of interconnected ways so it’s difficult to isolate just one in particular. For example, the Open Worldwide Application Security Project (“OWASP”) identified a top 10 list of cyber risks associated with AI. They range from risks associated with access, data and reputation risks. On the data side, AI training data can be poisoned via. turbo charged Distributed Denial of Service (“ DDoS” ) attacks. In these types of attacks, the cyber criminals flood a server with internet traffic that prevents users from accessing connected online services and websites. AI can also be used to crack passwords at scale, paving the way for ransomware to be installed. I think about the 17 hospitals in five states that were hit with ransomware attacks in August and how awful it must have been for people in the emergency rooms when the rooms had to be shut down due to ransomware and ambulances being diverted. I am thinking about how much worse it would have been if AI had been used to deploy malware in hospitals all across the US or beyond.

We’ve also been seeing that there have been a spate of impersonations of CEOs and CFOs using WhatsApp and other platforms in sophisticated targeted phishing attempts using false images and video impersonation fueled by AI. However, We can build governance to protect our people and systems from these scams and geopolitically fueled cyber events. Planning is everything though. You can either fail to plan or plan to fail when the stakes are this high. I discuss these strategies and more in my book Trust.: Responsible AI, Innovation, Privacy and Data Leadership but most importantly, leadership should no longer go this alone.

In order to future proof systems, effective governance and oversight is achievable and do-able. Governance needs to be in sync with legislative trends in 161 countries. It makes sense from that standpoint to get strategic. Firstly, boards need to get third party advisors to help them ask the right questions to keep the organizations resilient and forward thinking when it comes to preparedness. The CEO also needs guidance from advisors to understand what questions to ask of the CISO. The Global Data Innovation team I lead at Mayer Brown then digests these trends around the globe so leaders do not have to and can make clearer decisions in the future.

What are your thoughts on diversity and inclusion in tech? How important is it to have authentic conversations with leaders, professionals, and changemakers to create more acceptance across the globe?

Diversity in tech is absolutely crucial. By embracing diversity in AI design and development, we can create AI systems that truly reflect the diversity of humanity and serve the needs of everyone, not just a privileged few. Additionally, the business of creating and fully embracing a diverse leadership culture can be achieved quickly with speed and scale, when companies meaningfully engage with diverse leaders.

In your academic or work career, were there any mentors who have helped you grow along the way? What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Yes, there were many mentors. In law school, I took a pivotal course from Professor Anita Allen titled “Privacy in American Law.” I learned so much from her and this was even before the internet. In my work career, I’ve had the honor to work for wonderful firms and have met their many talented attorneys. The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is to always remain curious and work hard.

The meaning of leadership can change from one era to another, how would you define the meaning of leadership today?

Setting the example. A leader needs to practice what they preach. You cannot expect anything from your colleagues if you would not do it yourself. If you want to emphasize collaboration, you must collaborate. If you want to have a peaceful and productive work environment, you must lead that way. An organization is really just a reflection of its leaders.

What is it that motivates and inspires you in your everyday life?

Impact. In everything that I do, I want to make sure that I’m making things better. This extends to my legal work and helping the CEO and board community lead with their data.

Fun fact about you?

I love to travel with my family. Before I met my husband in 2017, my mother and I took many trips to France, Senegal and Morocco, just the two of us. The first time my sister met the person who later became my husband, we were on a sister’s trip in Greece and Adam turned up to join us just a few weeks after we first began dating. After I got married, we’ve taken many trips altogether- my husband, my mother, my sister, my aunt. We have traveled to (and made great memories in) France, Santa Fe, Martha’s Vineyard, and Palm Springs.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

Having impact.

What advice would you give to women who want to enter the tech industry?

Maintain your own vision of your career. Along the way, others might try to define you. But your own definition is what is most important. Also, dedicate yourself to being the best professional that you can be. It is rewarding to be able to get to a place where you have delved in deeply into issues and can help guide the path forward for clients for complex problems.

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