There Is Gender Equality in the Privacy Field…But Will it Last?

In recent ACCIAPP, and VentureBeat articles, we explored the subject of gender parity and disparity in the privacy and security professions. There are stark differences in how the two intersecting professions treat women. According to data from the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), the median salaries for privacy professionals are equal between men and women, and women are as likely as men to hold leadership positions in the field.

In contrast, the International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2’s most recent Global Information Security Workforce Study reports that “women in the information security profession represent 10% of the workforce — a percentage that is unchanged from two years ago.” (ISC)2 further reports that the proportion of women to men in security has been stubbornly stagnant.

When it comes to equal pay and equal respect, why is there this difference between the privacy and security fields?


Privacy has grown dramatically over recent years. Privacy professionals are responsible for delivering strategic advice to organizations on privacy issues as well as developing a company’s privacy strategy, analyzing privacy regulations, responding to data incidents, and numerous other related duties. Here are a few of our thoughts as to why this field enjoys more gender equality:

Multidisciplinary structure. The privacy industry is unique in how it combines several disciplines and applies to various other industries, which might contribute to its exceptional parity. “There is something about the multidisciplinary nature of privacy that appeals to women. We don’t see [different disciplines intersecting to that same extent] in technology or law,” explains Hilary M. Wandall, chair of the IAPP board and a privacy professional of 15 years. She partially credits the field’s reputation: “Personally, I always believed that it was possible to balance family and a challenging and continually evolving career in privacy and I think many privacy professionals — men or women — share this belief. And that is one of many reasons we see parity in privacy.”

Short history. Women may also be thriving in privacy because of the field’s relatively young age. Security has been an established field far longer than privacy, which means that men have dominated this space since its inception. Because privacy is a fairly new field, there is no set of pervasive historical inequities to overcome and no male-dominated network to break into. Wandall notes that women were essential partners in the inception of privacy: “There were no preconceived notions of success in privacy. Women and men defined it together.”

Unique culture. Because privacy is a relatively new field, its clients are more modern, and therefore less likely to hold “traditional” (i.e. gender disparate) views on compensation. The field’s leaders also contribute to this norm-defying culture and because many of them are women, they have the power to command high fees for their work instead of accepting the usual gender wage gap. This in turn sets expectations about the worth of other female privacy professionals.

Work-time flexibility. Privacy is unique in its flexibility, which may also be a factor in the field’s parity. Some recent studies (Note: links open a PDF in a new window) suggest that professions with the highest pay and least work-time flexibility tend to have the greatest pay gaps between men and women. Because privacy professionals have historically enjoyed more flexibility, it’s likely that this has contributed to the lack of a prominent wage gap.

Privacy professionals with legal training. Another observation points to the considerable number — more than 40%, according to IAPP President and CEO J. Trevor Hughes — of privacy professionals who are also lawyers. While we do not know for certain what this correlation means, we suggest an interesting theory. First, the legal field has traditionally had higher compensation compared to other fields (despite suffering from gender disparity, especially at the highest levels). Second, lawyers are also trained in negotiations. Could gender parity in privacy be attributed in part to women lawyers who chose to leave a traditional legal practice, enter the privacy field and, due to their legal training, command and negotiate higher salaries? 

Whether or not these theories are completely accurate, privacy has undoubtedly reached unique success in its levels of parity. It is important to understand the underlying reasons for gender parity in the privacy field if we are to experience this success in security and other professions. 


Will this parity continue to exist in privacy as the field becomes more technical, like security? Could the privacy workforce radically shift as the field becomes increasingly more technical, important, and high profile?

“Since the proliferation of data, connected devices, and data science around 2007 and 2008, privacy has become increasingly technical and quantitative in nature,” says Wandall. “We are no longer asked to focus on drafting policies and contracts.”

There is a possibility that we’ll see the proportion of women in privacy drop as the field becomes increasingly technical. Historically, women have chosen, or have been pushed to choose, careers in “soft sciences.” As a “soft science,” the privacy field may have gained its high proportion of women due to this phenomenon, so as the field becomes more technical, women may be less likely to pursue, or be encouraged to pursue, careers in privacy.

Public perception of the field may also affect parity. “Up until relatively recently, privacy was not the sexy, high-profile discipline that it has become today. It has recently become front and center due to technology development, high profile breaches, and developments abroad,” says Veronica Abreu, Associate General Counsel at Airbnb and privacy and cybersecurity specialist. As privacy receives even more attention in today’s data-focused age, the industry may perceive and laud more men as leaders, leading to a culture shift.

Ultimately, can the field’s legacy of valuing women and avoiding historical inequities prevent it from absorbing the male-dominated culture of other industries, including IT and security? Many privacy professionals are determined to preserve gender equity in their field. Groups like Women in Security and Privacy help maintain high gender parity levels where they exist. These groups also focus on introducing more women into the employment pipeline for professions with sub-par gender equity.

For now, however, the privacy field is still a striking example of a profession that gets gender equity right. Time will tell if it will remain that way. In the meantime, many of these professionals are intent on spreading privacy’s gender equity success to other fields, such as security and tech.

This article is co-authored with Lourdes M. Turrecha and originally published by Equal Respect, IT Security Planet.

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