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Privacy Tech | As diversity programs grow, protecting sensitive info becomes one vendor's mission Related reading: Startup hopes single sign-on tool can help turn the tide against botnets

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In the days before the EU General Data Protection Regulation became law, Shoshana Rosenberg, CIPP/A, CIPP/C, CIPP/E, CIPP/US, CIPM, PLS, learned of a development in the U.K. that did not sit well with her.

Organizations across different industries were asking their employees about their original gender and sexuality. Rosenberg does not believe these entities requested the information for government reporting purposes, and the other possible explanations offered to her did not add up.

The handling of such sensitive information was of vital concern to Rosenberg, and after conversations with some of her European colleagues, the gears in her head started turning.

"There was absolutely no reason that you would ever want that information to sit alongside an employment record, and that the notion that someone would be taking this on in a paperwork form, and having seen it entered and then disposed of it sat ill with me," Rosenberg said.

As companies collect sensitive information for their diversity programs and initiatives, Rosenberg wanted to ensure any data collected would only serve to benefit employees and never leave them in a state of vulnerability. 

Rosenberg hopes SafePorter may be able to provide a solution. The tech vendor's Data Protected tool assists organizations in gathering information for their inclusion programs and diversity goals while ensuring the privacy of all data subjects is respected.

"You see people across the world in boardrooms saying, 'This is the information that we have. We have this many more women than men or this many more men than women.’ Someone invariably is going to say, ‘Why don’t we know about nonbinary staff?’" said Rosenberg, who is the founder and CEO of SafePorter. "The truth is, they have no right to ask, or they feel like they have no right to ask, and then when you are talking about countries and states with data protection pieces in place, they know that to ask would be a huge point of vulnerability both for the individual and the organization."

When an employee is asked to fill out a diversity survey or wants to provide inclusion or organizational feedback, they would log in to a portal using both their SafePorter and company IDs. For a diversity survey, the employee would see the assigned form once they have logged in. They would then fill out the questionnaire.

The information entered is protected via k-anonymization to ensure employees cannot be identified when they complete a survey or report incidents of microaggressions, and Rosenberg said SafePorter never receives any information of anyone who enters information through their tools.

When a company receives a complaint of a microaggression, for example, Rosenberg said it should only be treated as feedback. She said it is important to avoid using anything gathered from the tool for any form of incident reporting, as "this cannot become a mechanism by which complaints are recorded." 

Rosenberg added employees have two mechanisms to delete information at any time. They can either submit a blank survey to override any existing records, or they can have their information eliminated through a function of the tool.

SafePorter also performs the same services for an organization's third-party vendors.

"If you have a corporate social responsibility program that was previously or currently tracking minority-owned businesses or women-owned businesses, which is a very valid and important thing to be tracking, you also have the ability to say to all of your vendors, ‘Tell us what your goals are for next five years and if you have in place a diversity officer,’" Rosenberg said. 

The business case for diversity is one Rosenberg said has been growing over the years. Rosenberg cited a McKinsey study as one of several that have come to the conclusion that companies perform better when they are pulling from a variety of vantage points and resource pools. Following the various events of 2020, Rosenberg saw diversity in the workplace grow from a feature to a mandate.

Rosenberg said an increased number of people, particularly younger individuals, see diversity as a necessity and will pay heed to those entities that do not take it seriously. 

Organizations have also learned over the years about the business case for privacy, given increased consumer awareness and the wave of privacy legislation around the world. She believes privacy and diversity are closely aligned and that any privacy-conscious organization would be wise to take the steps needed to protect the entirety of their staff.

"Because companies have learned to care about privacy, they should be aligning any intent that they have or awareness that they seek around diversity to align with the careful steps that they have taken to protect their employees and themselves as an organization, and truly minimize the data that they hold to that only that which they truly need," Rosenberg said. "Because diversity data is always tracked in the aggregate, there is no need to compromise privacy and to have that run alongside employee personal information or rather to the extent that a perceived need exists."

Rosenberg said SafePorter is currently working with smaller and non-government organizations and is having conversations with larger enterprises. Since SafePorter aims to touch companies of all sizes, Rosenberg said the tech vendor functions more as a utility rather than a yearly renewal service.

She said this keeps in line with SafePorter's B Corporation mandate as a company that balances business with social responsibility. Rosenberg added the strategy of using "non-competitive utility pricing" allows more companies to use the vendor's tools while also showing to their staff that they are attentive to privacy and diversity needs.

As diversity initiatives continue to gain steam, Rosenberg hopes SafePorter will eventually reach the point when it can show insights into programs all over the world and allow organizations to see how they compare to their peers in similar industries.

"We are in a very good place, and I think that people who have inclusion and diversity programs and faced down privacy issues may or may not know that they are looking for us, or a solution," Rosenberg said.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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