Do Women Make Better Privacy Professionals?


Jonathan Salem Baskin, Contributor

June 11, 2015

The International Association of Privacy Professionals’ latest survey of its members reveals that women in privacy have parity with men on jobs, titles, and pay. So, unlike many other industries (especially tech), female privacy pros aren’t ignored or penalized for their gender.

But are they uniquely qualified for their jobs, too?

“It’s a story about a new profession,”explained Trevor Hughes, IAPP’s president and CEO. “Privacy didn’t emerge until the late 1990s, so it doesn’t have a legacy of male hierarchy or entrenched positions.”

That’s when Patrice Ettinger, Pfizer’s chief privacy officer, first got into the field, seeing an opportunity for which nobody else was raising their hand. “It was the time when IP lawyers were taking about the effects of digitized content, only there were no preconceived notions of what a privacy role should encompass, much less who should fill it,” she explained. “I think gender differences in the workplace may have left women more willing to pursue riskier opportunities.”

“The chief privacy officer was being derided in the press back then, getting compared to a chief happiness officer,” added Hughes. “So it was certainly a risky, lateral career move.”

What a difference a decade or two make.

After its founding in 2002, the IAPP took 12 years to reach 10,000 members, growing in parallel to the slow expansion of business and institutional attention to the issue. In the last three years, membership has grown by another 13,000, reflecting the explosion in interest in privacy. Not surprisingly, 50% of its members are women.

“There’s something really unique about privacy,” said Hilary Wandall, global privacy officer for Merck, who joined her company’s privacy office when it was created in 2001, and has led it since 2004. “It appeals to people who want to be good at something technical, but also are looking for something to give back, to make a difference.”

The ideas of functional diversity and balance also loom large in an industry that rewards its male and female practitioners in the US with a median salary of $127,000 (it’s $110,810 globally).

“The profession requires sensitivity to the social sciences, ethics, and a capacity to communicate effectively,” explained Wandall. “A background in tech is a huge benefit, but leaders in privacy need a balance of skills.” Wandall started her career as a scientist, and then went to law school at night to make the transition into the emergent privacy opportunity at Merck.

“Privacy pros are rewarded for their cross-domain fluency. It’s not a purebred profession,” said Hughes.

Wandall elaborated: “The issues we deal with are social, ultimately, so having a diversity of skills, whether in individuals or across teams, is important. Diversity leads to better risk analyses, and better decision-making.” She also suggested that women interested in careers in privacy should pursue technical or science degrees, but also pursue dual majors/minors in philosophy, sociology, or ethics.

A law degree would help, too, considering 43% of the IAPP’s members have them.

But are women uniquely qualified for such jobs?

The survey is mum on that point, as the data reveal simply that women and men in the profession are represented and rewarded equally. The qualities of equal opportunity that made it appealing to Wandall and Ettinger early in their careers have continued to this day, though, which should bode well for anyone looking to work in the industry.

Also, it’s interesting to note that Wandall’s team is evenly split between men and women (“By design,” she said), while Ettinger’s is all female, thereby making the case that, if by example alone, the opportunities for women to make a difference on privacy should be no secret.

This article was written by Jonathan Salem Baskin from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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