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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