Why Women Should Pursue Careers in Data Privacy


As a woman in tech, I’m no stranger to the major gender gap in the industry. According to the AAUW, women only hold 26 percent of IT jobs – a number that’s declined from a 35 percent high in 1990. Perhaps the industry’s gender problem stems from young girls’ perception of tech jobs. For instance, IT association CompTIA found that only 23 percent of all girls have ever considered a career in tech.

While there’s clearly still plenty of work to be done, there’s at least one bright spot for women in technology: the data privacy and protection field. I’m proud to belong to a gender-balanced sector where women not only represent half of the workforce, but are also paid equal to their male counterparts. With almost 20 years of industry experience under my belt, I can confidently say that today’s privacy field offers a unique opportunity for women to break into tech.

Why Privacy is the Place to be for Women in Tech

Privacy is a profession with tremendous growth opportunity, and it’s a discipline that’s constantly evolving, making it an increasingly attractive option for bright women looking to enter a new, fast-moving profession. Under the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements, which go into effect next year, there will be an even larger opportunity for women to find jobs in the data privacy sector –  a 2016 IAPP study found that the new rules will require the appointment of 28,000 additional data protection officers in Europe and the U.S. alone.

Though pay equality is certainly a main reason why women make up such a large percentage of privacy professionals, plenty of other factors drive the 50/50 gender split. For example, it’s a relatively new profession in comparison to the IT security industry. Up until recently, being a Chief Privacy Officer (CPO) wasn’t a job that was particularly in demand, so many companies were seeking volunteers – and some women stepped up to fill those roles. Because they stepped up during an opportune time, these ambitious women now have a seat at the leadership table within today’s organizations.

Not only have women capitalized on the growth of the privacy industry, they also demonstrate the skills and strengths needed to be successful CPOs. A privacy officer must be well-versed in both the content and context of complex regulations – an area that many professional women have proven competence in. CPOs must be able to understand, interpret and explain very complex issues to key stakeholders. While doing so, women privacy officers tend to emphasize with the rights and feelings of their customers, fairly assess potential risk and effectively communicate with regulators, data protection agencies, and government organizations.

How More Women Can Get Involved in Privacy and Other Tech Sectors

The privacy field is a shining beacon of hope for many women – one that can be used to tackle the IT industry’s gender issue on a broader level (e.g. in other areas like engineering, cloud computing, and cybersecurity). While tech leaders should play a large part in fostering welcoming environments for women, I believe women need to take advantage of their opportunity to rise. Here are my tips for women looking to start a career in privacy and tech in general:

  • Seek out peers and mentors: It’s crucial for aspiring women in tech to have peers and mentors who support, promote, and inspire them. I had many such mentors within my family, throughout my education, and later in my professional life. My first mentors were my mother, who was a social worker with a master’s in economics, and my grandmother, who was one of the youngest women attorneys to graduate from Albany Law School. My grandmother went on to work well into her 80s and my mother continues to help others in her full-time career – just a few accomplishments that have helped inspire my own career.

Aside from identifying mentors within your personal life, I also recommend connecting with and learning from women colleagues. For instance, I’m inspired by many of the women I work with on a daily basis and across my professional networks. At AvePoint, as part of our corporate philanthropy program, we are also building out a women in technology program – an initiative we hope will inspire and provide mentorship to young professionals and will foster the development of a true peer-to-peer network of women technology executives.

  • Become involved in broader programs to help build your career: Women who actively seek out educational programming are doing their part in alleviating the tech industry’s gender gap. Since graduating law school, I have worked in technology companies where I have worked hard to not only create my own relationships, but also support women who have been hired after me. In my current role, I encourage young women to join industry associations to help pave their career paths. For women in privacy, I highly recommend becoming a member of the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP). Organizations like the IAPP allow women to contribute to events around the world that are intended to inspire men and women alike in the workforce.
  • Self-promote: Because women remain underrepresented in the tech industry, it’s even more important to become your own advocate both inside and outside of your organization. To allow women to acknowledge each other’s accomplishments, organizations should implement an internal social media platform. Such systems are a great avenue for women to give and receive recognition for the value they add to their companies. Women should be proud to promote the importance of their roles and ensure leadership is aware of their work, as well as the work of their female peers. Doing so can help move the needle for women in tech.

Industry experts say we’re at least a decade away from closing the tech gender gap, which means it’s critical for women and companies to take action now to encourage young women to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers. Despite what may or may not happen in the next decade, I have great hope for not only the future of women in security and privacy, but for all women in technology. If women rise to the occasion and embrace the tips outlined above, I’m positive more women will break down barriers and enter the tech workforce.

About the Author

As the Global Chief Compliance and Risk Officer at AvePoint, Dana is responsible for the privacy, security and data protection programs at the company. Dana is also responsible for executive level consulting, research and analytical support on current and upcoming industry trends, technology, standards, best practices, concepts and solutions for risk management and compliance (Privacy, Information Security and Information Assurance, Data Governance, etc.)

Dana creates and maintains relationships with executive management and multiple constituencies, both internal and external to the corporation, providing guidance on product direction, technology enhancements, customer challenges and market opportunities.  Dana also manages a global team of compliance subject matter experts with backgrounds in the fields of privacy, security, compliance and accessibility.

For the past two years, Dana has served as an inaugural member of the Women Leading Privacy Advisory Board for the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP). In this role, Dana has worked to help support programs at IAPP events around the world that are intended to inspire women (and men) in the privacy workforce.

TMC is working to raise awareness of such issues as well via its Tech Culture Awards program. It's dedicated to bringing this kind of important information to light and recognizing those companies that are effecting positive change in the workplace. We invite you to explore and participate in the TMC Workplace Excellence Award program including the Tech Culture Award, the Tech Diversity Award, and the Social Responsibility Award.

Edited by Alicia Young
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