IP Information & News

Five ways to champion women in IP

Dr Jenny Smith

By Dr Jenny Smith

Patent Assistant

We were very proud to host the 12th annual AIPLA Women in IP Global Networking Event in Leeds on 4 April. It was great to see so many in attendance, both men and women, to support Women in IP — not just in Leeds, but in many locations all around the world.

I’ve always been really passionate about supporting inclusivity, so I jumped at the chance to host this wonderful event. Here’s a run-down of the facts and highlights I talked about during my presentation, as well as five ways everyone in IP can help to encourage and promote diversity and equality.

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Current situation for women in IP


Judges and paralegals

All IP careers are suitable for any gender, but some have more of a gender bias than others. For example, the majority of paralegals are female, while not a single Judge in the UK Patents Court is a woman.

Female inventors

According to the UK Intellectual Property Office, women make up only 7% of patent holders in the UK. Internationally this figure is also low — a study of international patent (PCT) applications published by the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) in 2016 reported that only 14% of inventors are women (this figure falls to just 10% in the US).

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Female attorneys

This year we celebrate 100 years since women were allowed to enter the legal profession in the UK, and thankfully, women currently made up 48% of all UK lawyers, which is great to see.

But how is this split between UK trade mark and patent attorneys? According to a 2016 IPReg report, the overall percentage of female IP attorneys is only 34.8%. UK trade mark attorneys actually show a high average, but patent attorneys are lagging behind.

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The reasons for this are likely to be that, to become a patent attorney, a degree in a science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) subject is strongly preferred. And according to the WISE Campaign, the percentage of female STEM graduates in 2018 was 26%, which interestingly shows a strong correlation with the percentage of female patent attorneys. Although the number of STEM graduates is increasing year-on-year, the low percentage of female graduates in this field is bound to have a knock-on effect for the amount of females available for IP recruitment.

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What can we do to improve things for women in IP?

There are five main ways we can all work to make the IP profession fairer and more balanced between men and women:

  1. Encourage women in STEM subjects.
  2. Tackle unconscious bias.
  3. Improve the fairness of financial rewards.
  4. Encourage flexible working.
  5. Champion your colleagues.


1. Encourage young females to take STEM subjects

This can be through STEM ambassador initiatives, outreach and WISE campaigns. Something particularly useful if you’re planning a workshop is the Careers in Ideas website. This has some excellent resources including posters and leaflets about all IP careers, as well as a pre-planned, interactive workshop which is pretty much ready to go as soon as you downloaded it.


2. Tackle unconscious bias

Unconscious bias refers to both positive and negative attitudes that affect our understanding, decisions or actions concerning an individual or group, in an unconscious manner. It can lead to unequal opportunities for women and men in recruitment, work allocation and promotion.

For example, we need to be aware of applying gender stereotypes to different behaviours. Men are often described as confident, whereas women behaving in the same way might be described as bossy. We all have an unconscious tendency to look more favourably on others who reflect our own image or behaviour. This bias can result in a skew towards a particular gender in recruitment and work allocation, especially if there isn’t diversity among decision-makers.

Things we can do to reduce unconscious bias include:

  • reducing the subjectivity of assessment measures to lessen the impact of bias
  • encouraging mixed panels in decision-making groups
  • raising awareness of unconscious bias — if you’re aware of your own bias then you consider whether it’s having a negative effect on your decision-making processes


3. Improve the fairness of financial rewards

The average gender pay gap for the 25 largest UK law firms (by revenue) was 20%.

Despite nearly 50% of UK lawyers being female, only 33% of UK law firm partners are women, which has an effect on this gap. There’s often a lack of transparency about how salaries and bonuses are allocated in firms, which means that it’s hard to know how you’re performing in comparison to your colleagues — and whether you should push for higher financial rewards.

Furthermore, billing figures don’t necessarily reflect productivity or quality in themselves. If we don’t look at the wider picture, other equally measurable and beneficial contributions such as support and development, business development, team building and knowledge management, can be overlooked or undervalued.

Things we could do to improve the fairness of financial rewards include:

  • encouraging transparency
  • ensuring women have fair access to opportunities within the firm, including to lucrative work
  • considering the wider picture and valuing other contributions, rather than just billing


4. Flexible working

While flexible working is often thought of as something intended for those with childcare needs, all employees in the UK have the right to request it. Traditionally, parental responsibilities lie with women, but encouraging male staff to take on more will help to spread the load between parents and reduce gender stereotypes. Not only does flexible working improve employees’ health and well-being by improving work-life balance, it can also benefit the employer as a result of improved work performance through increased engagement and productivity.

Things we could do to improve the work-life balance include:

  • encouraging flexible working for all employees
  • focusing on contributions rather than time spent in the office
  • not making negative assumptions about people who work flexibly
  • considering flexible workers when arranging meetings, so that they don’t miss out on opportunities


5. Champion your colleagues

Supporting colleagues, talking about their successes, recommending them and praising each other are really important (and often undervalued) activities. Engagement and support from men is critical — everyone should try to be a positive role model. Your firm may need a culture change to ensure women receive the right opportunities — if there isn’t a woman in the right position for a particular job, you could encourage training and development so that more will have the opportunity in future.

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Summary

If we can all be conscious of these five points, we can work to build a fairer workplace for everyone. Both men and women have important roles to play to improve diversity across the board.

Thank you

Our thanks to Dr Danielle Miles, who was the second speaker at our Women in IP event. Danielle is a scientist, inventor and now Technology Innovation Manager at the University of Leeds, who spoke about experiences throughout her career of all levels of IP.

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Our thanks also to the AIPLA (American Intellectual Property Law Association) and IP Inclusive for their involvement with the event. We’d love to contribute again next year.

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