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3/25/2019
10:30 AM
Rita Heimes
Rita Heimes
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A Glass Ceiling? Not in Privacy

According to a new study, female professionals in the US privacy profession outnumber males 53% to 47%.

The past few years have seen an explosion of data-related crises, from the Snowden revelations about government surveillance to the Cambridge Analytica scandal at Facebook to the constant drumbeat of data breaches at leading global companies, including Marriott, Equifax, and Under Armour. This in turn has boosted an industry of privacy professionals, experts versed not only in law and policy but also in technology and management of personal data. Uniquely in a corporate context, particularly in tech-related markets, the privacy profession displays gender parity all the way from entry-level positions to senior leadership roles.

According to IAPP research into the governance practices of Fortune magazine's top 100 publicly traded companies, more than half (58) of the companies surveyed had appointed a chief privacy officer (CPO) and that C-suite office was twice as likely to be filled by a female than a male. In privacy, large and publicly traded corporations have chosen to hire and promote women to fill roles at the top of the corporate ladder.

It's no longer news that outside of privacy, women have been left out of corporate leadership roles, and that their absence can have negative political as well as economic consequences for firms. In a 2016 report, the Petersen Institute for International Economics found that the presence of females in the executive ranks can improve a firm's performance, underscoring the importance of creating a pipeline of female managers ready and qualified for promotion — rather than simply "getting lone women to the top." Privacy presents an opportunity for women to advance into executive roles because there are many well-qualified and trained women in the pipeline.

Since its emergence as a profession in the late 1990s, privacy has always been gender-balanced, with women making up at least half of the population of privacy professions and holding their own in privacy leadership roles. Indeed, the first-ever CPOs were Acxiom's Jennifer Barrett Glasgow and IBM's Harriet Pearson.

This year's IAPP-EY Privacy Governance Report shows that in the United States, female professionals outnumbered males in the profession 53% to 47%. Consistent with our Fortune 100 research, gender parity extends to the senior ranks of the corporate hierarchy. Specifically, where privacy leadership was housed in a legal department, women outnumbered men 59% to 37%.

For companies seeking gender diversity in their executive ranks, there are many qualified females in the privacy profession pipeline. Privacy presents an unparalleled opportunity to hire and promote women into senior executive positions. Moreover, given the importance of privacy to a firm's reputation and brand (registration required), firms of all sizes without a CPO role should seize the opportunity to create one, potentially gender-diversifying the C-Suite while benefiting customers and the brand.

The privacy profession — a field that molds together qualifications, skills, and expertise from both STEM and humanities — is a model for busting the glass ceiling.

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Rita Heimes is data protection officer, research director and general counsel at the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), a non-profit professional membership association headquartered in Portsmouth, NH. At the IAPP, Rita works with a team of privacy ... View Full Bio
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