At first glance, the IP professions may not look that diverse. Although there are plenty of female trade mark attorneys, and the patent profession overall has roughly the same proportion of women as are studying for STEM degrees, nevertheless female representation tends to decrease in the more senior ranks. And both professions currently have less diversity than they should in terms of ethnicity, disability and educational background.
But dig a little further and you find professions that are open-minded to change on this front, that are keen to foster an inclusive working environment that will attract and support a more diverse community of professionals. IP is, after all, a global issue; the professionals who work with it want to reach out across barriers, across continents, and to work as creatively and innovatively as their IP-generating clients.
Both CIPA and CITMA are founding members of the ‘IP Inclusive’ initiative, which aims to promote diversity and inclusivity across the IP professions. Its members include not just patent and trade mark attorneys, but also IP solicitors and barristers, IP Office examiners, patent searchers, IP administrators, and many other professionals who work in the field. The other founding members were the IP Federation and FICPI-UK, actively supported by the UK Intellectual Property Office. Many more organisations and individuals have given generously to support the movement since its inception.
In general terms, IP Inclusive raises awareness of diversity-related issues and provides a banner under which people can come together to make positive changes. More specifically, the work being done under that banner covers four key areas:
1. Awareness-raising upstream of the professions
In order to improve diversity in any profession, you need to widen the pool from which it recruits. Our ‘Careers in Ideas’ outreach project creates and distributes resources for school and university students, their teachers and their careers advisers. Its aim is to raise awareness of IP-related careers, and in turn to encourage recruits from a greater range of backgrounds, including from currently under-represented groups such as female STEM students, ethnic minorities and people from less privileged backgrounds. You may already have seen our Careers in Ideas guide, or perhaps visited our website, www.careersinideas.org.uk, to learn more about working in IP.
2. A best practice Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Charter
This is a voluntary code of practice for IP professionals to demonstrate their commitment to greater diversity and inclusivity. Its signatories include both in-house departments and private practice firms – so when you’re looking at prospective employers, you might want to ask whether they’ve signed up to the IP Inclusive Charter.
We also aim to provide cost-effective and accessible training in diversity-related issues. IP Inclusive organises seminars, webinars and discussion events and shares information and blog posts on issues of relevance. Recent and future planned events cover topics such as unconscious bias; improving ethnic diversity; networking and mentoring for women in IP; ‘workplace allies’; recruitment best practices; improving mental well-being in the IP professions; the business case for diversity; and how ‘out’ you can be at work.
4. Support schemes
There are already two thriving IP Inclusive support groups: one for Women in IP and one, ‘IP Out’, for the LGBTQ+ community. More are intended. These groups help the professions to understand and nurture those in minority groups. Each organises its own social, networking, training and awareness-raising events, and provides safe spaces for its members to share their experiences and seek support and guidance from their peers.
IP Inclusive has been going since 2014, but it already has wide support across the professions. There are over 100 signatories to our EDI Charter, from around the country. In 2017 we won the first ever Managing IP award for Corporate Social Responsibility. Our support groups are thriving and our events well-attended.
If you want to find out more about the initiative, visit our website at www.ipinclusive.org.uk, follow us on Twitter (@IPInclusive and @ip_out) or join one of our LinkedIn® discussion groups (IP Inclusive, IP Inclusive Women in IP and IP Out).
Above all, IP Inclusive is a catalyst for change. So when you look at the IP professions in five or ten years’ time, you should see much more diversity than you do now. And in the meantime, you can expect to find a welcoming and inclusive environment that will be more willing than ever to accept you for who you are, so long as you are hard-working, committed and good at the job.
Already we see patent and trade mark practices working to encourage a wider range of recruits, reaching out to schools and universities with careers talks and work experience opportunities. We see them hiring professionals from a wider range of countries and cultures so as better to reflect their international client bases; offering flexible and part-time working to accommodate people who want a better work/life balance; training staff to overcome unconscious bias; and exploring workplace support measures such as mentoring or ‘back to work’ schemes. Many organisations, in particular in industry, have EDI policies and dedicated EDI officers.
It is not necessary to be white, or male, or middle class, to join our profession. It is not necessary to have studied at Oxbridge or to have had private schooling. Your gender and sexuality should not be relevant to your career development. Your physical requirements should be accommodated and your mental well-being safeguarded. This is the kind of profession that new trainees should be joining. And I hope that they – you – will continue to fight for this important cause.