At first glance, the IP professions do not look diverse. Although there are plenty of female trade mark attorneys, women are less well represented in the patent profession, especially 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 deeper and you find professions that are open to change on this front, that are keen to attract and support a wider range of people. Both CIPA and CITMA are founding members of the “IP Inclusive” initiative, which aims to promote diversity and inclusivity throughout 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 work together for change. More specifically, that work covers four key areas:
- 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 visited our website, careersinideas.org.uk, to find out about working in IP.
- 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
- Training: 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. Our 2017 events covered topics such as unconscious bias, “workplace allies”, improving mental well-being in the IP professions, the business case for diversity and how “out” you can be at work.
- Support schemes: There are three IP Inclusive support groups: one for Women in IP; “IP Out” for the LGBT+ community; and “IP & ME” for BAME professionals and their allies. These help the professions to understand and nurture colleagues from under-represented 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.
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 should expect to find a welcoming and inclusive environment that is willing 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 encouraging a wider range of recruits, reaching out to schools and universities with careers talks and work experience opportunities. We see them hiring professionals from different 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, dedicated EDI officers or diversity “champions”.
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.
IP Inclusive has been going since 2015, but it already has wide support across the professions. There are over 120 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.
To find out more about IP Inclusive, visit our website at www.ipinclusive.org.uk.