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Dana Simberkoff
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Data Privacy Careers Are Helping to Close the IT Gender Gap

There are three main reasons why the field has been more welcoming for women. Can other tech areas step up?

It's common knowledge that there's a huge gender-based disparity in technology. The most pertinent questions are why and what can be done to close that gap.

In the past few years, a series of studies have explored these questions and emerged with compelling, quantifiable findings. Among other insights, they've revealed the common assumption that women are less interested in tech careers to be false. As a 2016 CompTIA study illustrated, the problem isn't one of interest, but of awareness: From a young age, women aren't given the same exposure to tech career paths as their male counterparts.

Beyond overturning assumptions about women's disinterest in pursuing tech careers, these studies have revealed two much more potent causal factors behind the gap: Deeply entrenched sexism within the tech field and the very real gender-based pay gap. As a study conducted by Hired revealed, women in tech earn 4% less for the same work, on average.

Yet there's one sector of technology jobs where the gender gap doesn't exist: data privacy. In stark contrast to almost every other tech role, data privacy is unique in its 50/50 split of female and male professionals. What is it about the data privacy career path that levels the playing field? And what lessons can be applied to other tech subsectors?

An Equal Playing Field
Within the tech sector, data protection and privacy is a burgeoning field. It's gained particular momentum over the past few years, amid large-scale enterprise data breaches and intensifying national and international conversations about the data privacy duties of both enterprises and governments to protect individuals' private data.

In the European Union, this conversation resulted in concrete policy change, with the emergence of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which imposes massive fines for companies that breach established data standards. While the EU is outpacing the US on the data protection front, we may soon see similar policy changes in the states — especially in the wake of high-profile personal data trust breaches such as the ongoing Facebook data harvesting debacle.

But what's bad for Facebook is decidedly great for the data privacy industry. Within the sector, there's enormous job opportunity. According to AvePoint and the Center for Information Policy Leadership's second annual GDPR readiness report, roughly one-third of organizations surveyed said they're building out staff to prepare for GDPR implementation. And of the many available roles, women and men alike are filling them at an equal pace. So, what makes data privacy such a level playing field in terms of gender?

● There's pay parity: The most important step to closing the tech gender gap is ensuring pay parity across all roles. On that front, the tech industry as a whole continues to fall short. But that's not the case for data privacy. As a 2015 privacy industry report revealed, there is only a nominal gender-based difference in pay. Instead, certifications play a much bigger factor in determining salary.  

● It's a new(ish) profession: The notion of a data privacy professional has only entered into the tech lexicon within the past few years. From a gender standpoint, this is significant. In contrast to other tech roles like developers and programmers, there's not a popular perception of who should fill data privacy roles, nor have subcultures emerged that implicitly exclude a group or groups of people. 

● There's not a glass ceiling: The tech gender problem won't be solved with just a 50/50 split; there has to be equity up the ladder as well. And that's a big issue in many tech sub sectors, where women secure jobs but then don't see a path for growth relative to their male counterparts. In data privacy, the data shows that growth is possible and is not gender-dependent: Among privacy professionals at the vice president and C-level, there's a nearly even gender split.  

As the data privacy sector continues to grow — and grow equitably — it's advisable for other tech fields to chart and follow its course. Working ardently to close the gender pay gap and offering equal work and career advancement opportunities to both women and men are just two of several ways industry leaders within the tech space can do to move toward completely closing the gender gap within tech.

Tech industry leaders can look to the data privacy industry as an example of what happens when stereotypes, toxic subcultures and pay inequities are taken off the table. What's left is the work — and when it comes to doing that work, women and men gravitate toward it at the same rate, and rise through the ranks at the same pace.   

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Dana Louise Simberkoff is the Chief Risk, Privacy, and Information Security Officer, AvePoint, Inc. She is responsible for executive-level consulting, research, and analytical support on current and upcoming industry trends, technology, standards, best practices, concepts, ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Guru
1/26/2020 | 2:54:19 PM
Gender doesen't metter
We shouldn't focus on gender. We should focus on people that want this type of a career. 
User Rank: Ninja
8/23/2018 | 3:26:16 PM
Re: Gender? How about SMART people!
LOL - yes, i would say that answers that question nicely!!!!!
Kelly Jackson Higgins
Kelly Jackson Higgins,
User Rank: Strategist
8/23/2018 | 1:57:07 PM
Re: Gender? How about SMART people!
Actually, Dana is in IT security: Her title is Chief Risk, Privacy, and Information Security Officer, AvePoint, Inc. =)
User Rank: Ninja
8/23/2018 | 1:05:30 PM
Re: Gender? How about SMART people!
Partial agree - wrong to portray all H1-B in a group but American management has a mindset STILL RUNINNG that IT is just an expense line item in a budget - that's all - damn those high salary men and women who do quiet work in the background.  I just came to my present job from a local office outsourced to WiPro and it was a DISASTER and so much so that the CIO of the place was ASKED to resign after 2 years of living hell.  Security is a high end matter that takes years to train for so we need smart people, not cheap salary expense people, doing the work.  I have met some dumb American workers too in my day.


User Rank: Apprentice
8/23/2018 | 7:59:53 AM
Re: Gender? How about SMART people!
I had a funny question, why isnt the author of this article in IT? Just my logic as a human asking a good question. No? There is a gap but its not an abnormal sign of anything apocolyptic. Its just a preference by people. Some people love science more than history or any other subject. Being smart doesnt have anything to with genitalia. 
User Rank: Apprentice
8/22/2018 | 8:14:33 AM
Interest vs awareness
You stated: "As a 2016 CompTIA study illustrated, the problem isn't one of interest, but of awareness: From a young age, women aren't given the same exposure to tech career paths as their male counterparts."

The report actually listed 5 variables - awareness being one, and interest being another. One doesn't contradict the other.

  • Parents play a key role in introducing technology – Girls and boys agree that parents and guardians are the primary source for finding out what IT stands for. But boys are more likely to begin using mobile devices at an earlier age, at five years old or younger, than girls (11 percent vs. 5 percent). Boys are also slightly more likely to explore the inner workings of tech devices out of curiosity (36 percent vs. 30% of girls).
  • Girls' interest in technology lessens with age – Nearly half of boys have considered a tech career, compared to less than one-quarter of girls. Among middle school girls, 27 percent have considered a career in technology. By high school this figure drops to 18 percent.
  • Tech classes aren't enough –Girls who have taken a technology class are only slightly more likely to have considered an IT career (32 percent). Less than half of girls who've taken these courses are confident their skills are right for the job.
  • Girls lack awareness about career opportunities – Of girls who have not considered an IT career, 69 percent attribute this to not knowing what opportunities are available to them. More than half (53 percent) say additional information about career options would encourage them to consider a job in IT.
  • Girls need role models in the industry – Just 37 percent of girls know of someone with an IT job. This rises to 60 percent among girls who have considered an IT career.

Lack of awareness about career opportunites doesn't directly relate to lack of awareness of technology, either. 
Kelly Jackson Higgins
Kelly Jackson Higgins,
User Rank: Strategist
8/20/2018 | 4:10:43 PM
Re: Gender? How about SMART people!
@REISEN1955 Your comment about IT people working via the H1-B visa program is an unfair and inflammatory characterization of an important sector of the US workforce. While we welcome different points of view here on Dark Reading, there are more productive ways to debate the issues than disparaging groups of people this way. Let's shift the narrative to a more respectful conversation. Thank you.
User Rank: Ninja
8/20/2018 | 12:21:28 PM
Gender? How about SMART people!
We do not need more women or men, we need more SMART people and less H1-B visa cheap salary people who don't know a byte from a malicious javascript component.  Women and Men need apply!   American management has to banish the notion that IT support comes on the cheap!!!  We deal with chaos every moment of every day and have to have unique smarts to deal with it.  Get rid of the notion that salary and benefit expense ALONE rules your IT staffing budgets. 
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