The Industry That’s Managed To Close The Gender Wage Gap

The privacy industry has managed to close the gender wage gap. How did they do it and what can we learn from it?

The Industry That’s Managed To Close The Gender Wage Gap
[Photo: Flickr user vintagedept]

Ever since society associated the image of success with a man, pattern recognition has been ruining opportunities for women.


The longer an industry has suffered under this kind of bias thinking, the deeper pattern recognition exists when making business deals, hiring, and promotions, to name a few. And from years of doing business with this kind of bias, the reality is women still make 78 cents for every dollar earned by men working full time, year round, despite earning more college degrees and at least half of their family’s income.

Now, one industry claims to have leveled the playing field far ahead of the rest, with women earning on average 96% of what men make. In the U.S. privacy industry, men were paid a median salary of $130,000 last year compared to women who were paid $125,000. In Europe, women in privacy professions made more on average than men, with women being paid $100,000 and men $92,600.

The survey included data from 1,253 privacy professionals worldwide and was released on Tuesday by the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), the largest association of privacy professionals with more than 20,000 members.

“We’ve looked at numbers and salaries for a number of years and [men and women’s salaries] have always been comparable,” J. Trevor Hughes, CEO of IAPP, tells Fast Company. “This year we decided to look at them much more closely. We broke the data down more and what we found was that parity is actually pervasive within the field. There has not been a tradition of cost imbalance.”


The survey also found that women are 33% more likely to have a seat in the C-suite compared to their male counterparts in the U.S.

How has privacy and data governance fields managed to solve the pipeline problem so much quicker than other industries? According to Hughes, it’s because pattern recognition never existed in the industry to begin with.

“I think the fact that we emerged as a new profession relatively recently, there was not the baggage that other professions carry in terms of male dominated culture,” he says.

Patrice Ettinger, chief privacy office at Pfizer, says the industry was like a “blank slate” in the beginning.

“When I came on in the late 90s, privacy didn’t exist yet,” says Ettinger. “I think the reality is, there was no preconceived notion back then that what someone who works in privacy is going to look like. There was no role model who was a male leader in that area.”

As a result, there was an early influx of women and the industry never suffered from an imbalance in gender representation that so often occurs in other industries. Since women moved into this area early, explains Ettinger, natural role models and mentors also formed, and women feel very open about helping one another.


According to Hughes, men and women are more equally represented in higher levels and ranks.

But other industries can’t really start with a clean slate, so to speak, so how do they find ways to emulate the privacy industry in equal pay and gender representation?

Ettinger says it’s important to find ways in other industries to recreate a sort of blank slate, even if it’s not organic. Wipe away your definition of what success is supposed to look like and know when pattern recognition is forcing you to choose what’s familiar. Eventually, your “blank slate” will seem more organic, says Ettinger.

About the author

Vivian Giang is a business writer of gender conversations, leadership, entrepreneurship, workplace psychology, and whatever else she finds interesting related to work and play. You can find her on Twitter at @vivian_giang.