Meet a ladybadass: Theresa Kushner - data junkie, privacy advocate, and change maker

Over on our #ladybadass sister-site, we highlight many of the fearless, courageous, and inspiring ladies in business and in life around the world. We're taking this idea a step further and finding out what it is that motivates and inspires these phenomenal women.

From journalist to data junkie to privacy champion advocate, Theresa Kushner epitomizes what it is to be a ladybadass.

#BeBrave #BeCurious #BeKind

Theresa Kushner, a self-described Type A personality, began her frenetic career by holding down three jobs while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in journalism. After a long stint in the technology industry leading the way at VMware, Cisco and IBM, she is now Senior Vice President for the Performance Analytics Group at Dell EMC. Theresa is also a published author and leading collaborative writer. Her two books (Managing Your Business Data: From Chaos to Confidence and B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results) combine her journalism background and authority in the field of data analytics.

Data Junkie

So, what does she do? In a nutshell, Kushner would describe her job as, “Like running a mining company. I take raw material (data) and mine it for where all the gold nuggets are, and then we fashion it into jewelry to add value to the business.” Jumping in headfirst to Dell EMC in June 2017, Theresa headed to India, home to 400 people under her supervision. Before arriving, she asked each: “Tell me what we're doing right, what we need to improve, and what you would do if you were me.” This simple ask is a telling indicator of her ethos and leadership style.

Privacy Advocate

Kushner sees data privacy as one of the most pressing and alarming issues in the industry in what she terms, Non-Anonymous Anonymity.  Like other leaders in her field, Kushner sounds the alarm bells regarding the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) with big data and data gathering.

“Data about us is everywhere," she cautions. "Experian let go of a lot of information, but they're not the only one. There's a data breach that happens every day in this country. You do not know where your information is. With the incorporation of AI, our data will be available to machines whose algorithms may lack an ethical background or conscience. People have got to take control of something that they've never really thought about beforehand; that is their own information about themselves. No longer is it just your name and your social security number, but now it's your DNA too.”

Kushner explains that data is gathered from every aspect of your daily life: where you sit; where you move; who you move with. What sites on the internet you visit. And now with GPS, what physical sites you visit. We’ve all seen those ads online. You’ve done a quick search for “toddler socks,” and suddenly, every site you visit includes a plethora of colorful socks and adorable kiddie outfits. The quick, simple, and innocent search produced valuable data for countless advertisers and companies to inundate you with personalized ads.

Your data points are then bundled with others with similar data points.  Kushner refers to James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds that surmises that when you get enough people together, they come to the same conclusions. Using data analytics and AI, a store now has enough information on an individual (combined with those of millions of others) to predict not only what you will buy, but how long you will stay in the store, and even where in the store you will go.

Your anonymity is lost. Unknowingly or naively, we give away valuable data every day.

It's scary and overwhelming no doubt. Kushner points out that control and accumulation of our data also presents a clear danger to our political democracy. “Russian interference shows that you don't have to know people individually to change their minds.  All you have to do is create FUD–fear, uncertainty, and doubt.” Kushner explains that this promotion repeatedly incites fear, builds on that uncertainty and doubt, and eventually changes people's attitudes and opinions. “If we don't think that's real or possible, we’re kidding ourselves,” she cautions. As a trained journalist, she is particularly incensed that “truth went out the window.”

Ironically, Kushner’s career is data mining – gathering the data, knowing where to dig, how to dig, what to dig for. She holds and disseminates that data about you and millions of others. However, with this immense responsibility, Kushner is conscious of its importance and value. Kushner is adamant that control of information be given back to the people. Her ethical voice is a vital part of the conversation as AI continues to develop and potentially exceed the abilities of human intelligence.

Change-Maker

In true ‘take no prisoners’ style, Theresa Kushner is not a hand-wringing alarmist but a doer and change maker. She is emboldened to empower change in many arenas.

Attending the Women's March in San Francisco earlier this year, Kushner wryly noted that the placard that resonated the most with her read: “After all these years I can't believe we’re protesting the same shit.” Kushner is a strong voice in the ecosystem she operates in and will be a good candidate to enter the political stage—possibly running as a member of the local school board. Who knows what’s next.

Whether it’s data and privacy, women’s rights, or education, don't expect this LBA to be silent and rest on her laurels.


Do you know a #ladybadass?

Is there someone you know who is doing amazing things and not getting the recognition and attention she deserves? Nominate her to be a ladybadass!

We want to shine the light on #ladybadassery around the world.

Staying to Protect the Team

Do you see a new diversity gap widening in front of you?