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Privacy Perspectives | Privacy pros’ salaries rise, yet pay gaps by gender persist Related reading: Research explores India's Aadhaar privacy safeguards



This year’s IAPP salary survey has provided us with a detailed look at compensation trends in the privacy profession around the world. This piece highlights a few of the survey’s main findings, including the growth in salaries and additional compensation and regional disparities in pay. It also discusses ways that greater gender equality in pay for privacy professionals can be achieved.

First and foremost, this type of research owes a debt of gratitude to those IAPP members and Daily Dashboard subscribers who took time to complete the survey. Without respondents volunteering their time and energy, our understanding of how privacy professionals are being compensated would be incomplete.

The good news: Companies continue to pay privacy pros more

The median salary for privacy professionals has risen by 7% since the last salary survey was conducted in 2017 (from $115,000 to $123,050) and 11% since the 2015 survey (from $110,800). There is little doubt that the low supply of privacy professionals, coupled with the increasing demand for privacy knowledge, skills and experience, accounts for at least part of the wage increases we observe. Indeed, privacy today no longer suffers from “systematic inattention and lack of resources,” but is an issue that “makes the Board’s agenda.” In legal circles, it’s referred to as “the next hot area of law.” Moreover, initiatives such as the IAPP’s Privacy Law Specialist accreditation, which was approved last year by the American Bar Association, are continuing to advance the profession.

The wage increases the privacy profession has witnessed in recent years also compares favorably to other U.S. workers across the private sector, who have seen lower wage increases of about 5% since 2017 and about 10% since 2015, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Moreover, about 73% of privacy professionals reported receiving a raise over the past year, and 72% also reported receiving some form of additional compensation, with the median value of their bonuses being $20,000.

Salaries for chief privacy officers have risen at an even faster rate, from a median of about $139,000 in 2015 to $170,000 in 2017 and $200,000 in 2019. Thus, since 2015, the median salary of CPOs has increased by about 44%.

IAPP Vice President and Chief Knowledge Officer Omer Tene recently described privacy professionals as “modern-day renaissance women and men” who are responding to the needs of their organizations and shaping the evolution of the digital economy. These people are expected not only to understand laws and policies, but also to examine complicated questions arising from the growth of advanced technologies. Considering the heightened demands placed on privacy pros to keep up with data protection and privacy law, the increase in salaries and compensation suggests that their hard work is paying off.

The not-so-good news: Geographic disparities and gender gaps in pay persist

Although the rising tide has lifted all ships, some have gotten a bigger lift than others. Indeed, this year’s survey revealed significant pay disparities for privacy professionals around the globe and between men and women.

For example, while the median salary for a U.S.-based privacy professional was $150,000, the median salary for privacy pros based in the EU or U.K. was about $98,000, while in Canada it was $72,000. While some of this disparity should be attributed to the makeup of each geographic region’s subsample (i.e., U.S. privacy pros tend to be more concentrated in the software and services industry, and a greater proportion of them also hold senior positions, such as CPO and lead counsel), even controlling for these factors, U.S. privacy pros still tend to earn more than their counterparts elsewhere in the world.

Moreover, data from this year’s salary survey indicate differences in compensation by gender, with women receiving lower salaries, less frequent raises and smaller bonuses than men in equivalent roles. These differences are mostly driven by the U.S. and U.K.; the gap is almost nonexistent in Canada and the EU. While the median salary for a U.S. male privacy pro was about $161,000, the median salary for U.S. female privacy pros was about $134,000. Similarly, in the U.K., male privacy pros earned a median salary of $111,000, compared to a median salary of $98,000 for females.

On the bright side, in the EU (excluding the U.K.), males had a median salary of $98,000, compared to $97,000 for women. Similarly, in Canada, male and female privacy pros had the same median salary.

The differences in pay between male and female privacy pros in the U.S. and U.K. should come as little surprise given that the presence of a “gender gap” in pay is longstanding and well documented in almost every industry, even those in which women outnumber men.

The differences in pay between male and female privacy pros in the U.S. and U.K. should come as little surprise given that the presence of a “gender gap” in pay is longstanding and well documented in almost every industry, even those in which women outnumber men. Recent data and reports from PayScale, American Association of University Women, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in recent years, women have been earning around 80–82% of what men earn. Although the gender gap in pay has narrowed significantly since 1960, most of this progress occurred in the 1980s and 1990s (since 2004, the ratio of women’s to men’s earnings has remained within the 0.80–0.83 range). Thus, the gender gap remains, and the U.S. is still decades away from achieving gender pay equity.

What to do about it? Ask women

While educating women in science, technology, engineering and math is an important societal objective in itself, it is unlikely to address the root causes of the gender gap. Even in STEM fields, women earn an average of just 0.89 cents for every dollar men earn, according to a study by Bloomberg. Even more discouraging is the idea that, as a field becomes more populated by women, the pay for that profession declines.

There are, however, practical steps both employees and employers can take toward closing the gender wage gap. Some states have passed laws preventing employers from asking job candidates about their salary history, in an attempt to untether compensation decisions from pay histories that may have the imprints of discrimination from a prior employer on them. Yet, there are other ways that women may still be treated unfairly during the course of salary negotiations. One experimental study, for example, found that males penalized women more than they did men for opening a salary negotiation. Thus, all employers should work to ensure they do not impose such “social costs” on women who attempt to negotiate better pay for themselves.

Other initiatives exist to help women improve their skills at negotiating salaries, raises and promotions. The AAUW, for example, offers workshops on salary negotiation aimed at helping women to “identify and articulate their personal value” and develop “persuasive responses and other negotiation strategies.” Partnerships and engagement with initiatives such as this can help companies that want to make gender equality in pay a priority.

But perhaps the best way to move forward and address this problem is to hear directly from you, the IAPP’s members. If you have any insights or would like to share your observations or experiences, feel free to write me an email. Through further research and hearing from female privacy pros, we can begin to open a dialogue about what our association can do to close the wage gap.



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