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Women in Privacy Lead the Way

Dec 2, 2020 | Privacy

The CIO.com article Women in tech statistics: The hard truths of an uphill battle (White, 2020) presents a mixed bag of some positive trends and very bad experiences. Consider:

“According to data from the National Science Foundation,” writes White, “more women than ever are earning STEM degrees…the percentage of master’s degrees in computer science earned by women rose to 31 percent in 2016, up from 28 percent in 1997.”

Still, “A 2017 poll in the Pew Research Center report found that 50 percent of women said they had experienced gender discrimination at work, while only 19 percent of men said the same. The numbers were even higher for women with a postgraduate degree(62%), working in computer jobs (74%) or in male-dominated workplaces (78%).”

Given this, it is not surprising to learn that women are still entering the technology workforce at lower rates than men. So what’s the story in the data privacy profession which appears to be a very woman-friendly space despite its deep technical underpinnings?

WireWheel recently hosted its annual Spokes Privacy Technology Conference (December 1-2) which included a who’s who of women in Data Privacy. In fact of 21 panelists, 14 (67%) were women.

Why are Women So Successful in the Privacy Industry?

So, as Judy Gordon, WireWheel’s Vice President of Marketing asks the Woman in Privacy Panel, “Why do you think that women are so successful in this industry?”

CEO & Founder, BlueSky Privacy Teresa Troester-Falk relates that “This question has come up a lot and it’s very obvious when you go to a privacy conference, I would say, now it’s like 50/50 men and women. Contrast that to an RSA Conference: the first one I went, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a sea of blue suits like it couldn’t have been more obvious.’

“I think part of it is the amount of, let’s call it behavioral science, that goes into privacy,” opines Dona Fraser, Senior Vice President, Privacy Initiatives, BBB National Programs. “Privacy in the online space is not just the statistics of what people do. But why they do what they do. And there’s something about that” that appeals to women particularly.

“Another theory is that – and again, it’s a stereotype, but I think there’s some validity to [it] – that [while] it involves technology, it [is really about] people and women tend to be drawn more to careers that have impact on individuals.” adds Donna.

A Human View of Technology

“Finding your passion” is paramount says Susan Rohol, Senior Vice President and Chief Privacy Officer, WarnerMedia. “It was important to me that I could find companies where I felt like I could be an advocate for doing the right thing that the companies were motivated to be doing the right thing when it came to consumers data…and I think everyone has to find a way to navigate to a place where they’re doing something they really love.”

However, Susan reminds that technology plays a big role in data privacy, and those who choose data privacy as a career must acquire a level of comfort, if not outright competency, with it: “The more technology skills and knowledge you have, the more knowledgeable you will be as an advocate with your business teams and with your tech teams. So if you can develop that information, those skill sets, that language, I think it will make you more persuasive and more effective overall.”

Unsurprisingly, the reverse is true as well. It is a two-way information flow as competency in the technical aspects of data privacy enhance your understanding of the regulatory and compliance concerns. “One of the really positive things about having this cyber security background, says Susan Markel, WireWheel’s Vice President of Engineering, “is that a lot of what we care about protecting data on the security side, you also care about on the privacy side.”

The ability for these two sides to talk is paramount. Data privacy is complex from a regulatory and compliance perspective and it is complex from the technology perspective. Mistranslation between the two is not acceptable. Getting either wrong is a recipe for disaster leading to sanctions, burdensome response, and reputational damage. All of which are costly to any organization.

Advice for Young Women Professionals

Technology can be a daunting thing, so where should young professionals start? asks Judy.

“Look, if I could rewind the clock,” says Susan, “I would take classes in coding because I think if you actually know how to code you speak an entirely different language for the people and developers who have to build a lot of this into their products from the get-go.

“If that’s outside of the realm of possibility for whatever reason, I think you should focus on learning how the advertising and marketing world works…. understand everything touching the big platforms, their products. The nature with which they digest data [and] how those things all flow.”

“And it’s becoming more and more technical,” agrees Teresa. “I don’t think [competency with technology is] just a nice value-add anymore or something that gives me a little differentiation. I think will be a requirement. The day is coming when it’s not just you should do this, but you need to do it.

Dona Fraser offers the following timeless advice: “Persevere. Stay the course. And find a good mentor.”
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