According to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Diversity and Inclusion in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), women account for only 27% of the UK’s labour force (some 32.8 million people in 2019), a significantly lower proportion of the UK British workforce, in which women made up 52%. The world doesn’t fare too much better when it comes to gender parity in STEM, with the World Economic Forum also recently noting: “Globally 72% of scientific researchers are men. Only one in five countries achieve what is classed as “gender parity” with women making up 45%-55% of researchers.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the intellectual property field reflects similar disparities. In 2019 the World Intellectual Property Organisation found that “…less than one fifth of inventors named in international patent applications were women…at the current pace [of change], parity amongst PCT-listed inventors will only be reached in 2044.”
With better gender diversity in the scientific community seemingly still a way off, we thus wanted to take the opportunity of International Women’s Day this year to share some ideas of how to support gender parity at a more localised level from a recruiter’s perspective:
Commit to more flexible working
Use COVID as a springboard to address modernising working practices as far as practicable. This not only benefits women but is likely to be a key factor in both retaining and attracting new talent across the board post-COVID. See Milli Bouri’s article, Flexible and remote working: is this the future of the IP industry? for more commentary.
Be unashamedly introspective
Examining where and why you are losing female talent is vital. It’s tempting to shrug off the professional ‘leaky pipeline’, particularly at the mid-senior level, as a side effect of biological imperatives, but this is only a small part of a much more complex and nuanced puzzle. Career progression for women can be less linear, but modern career paths are often non-linear or multi-directional anyway. How your organisation defines success and supports women in achieving a satisfying and fulfilling career – whatever that looks like – can be just as much a piece of the puzzle.
Obtain and use internal feedback
Seek honest feedback from your employees, particularly women and other under-represented groups, and use it to inform and improve your offering as an employer. Getting into granular detail about what you could be doing better – minor or major – can be hard to hear, especially via an exit interview when losing talent, but it can truly make all the difference in cultivating an engaged and loyal workforce.
Be prepared to think creatively more often
The patent profession is traditionally conservative, however, that must not extend to hiring too. If you are struggling to find female talent locally, look at how best to support internal progression, or retrain from atypical technical fits, or offer relocation support when hiring to source talent from untapped potential internationally. (Incidentally, we have a fantastic global network at Adamson & Partners, so we’d be happy to help!)
Foster an environment of positive feedback where it is due
A variety of factors, not least social conditioning, typically see women as less likely to engage in positive self-evaluation and self-promotion behaviours – particularly notable in a recent BMJ study within the context of presentation of scientific research findings. Seek to openly celebrate valuable contribution and existing capabilities across the board but be emphatic about doing so where people are less likely to highlight, or even recognise their own professional triumphs.
Establish strong mentorship channels
In particular to make best use of junior or mid-level talent. Mentorship doesn’t have to come from the same practice area, nor even the same firm, company or field. If you don’t have formal mentorship schemes, work to establish these, or encourage senior staff to add mentorship to their CPD activities. This can be rewarding for both parties, irrespective of gender – you would be surprised how many accomplished senior patent professionals we speak with, who still cite mentee’s successes amongst their own proudest career achievements.
Commit to additional external D&I initiatives
There are numerous IP-wide bodies, formal and informal, designed to improve gender and other diversities across the profession. The IPO for instance offers a ‘Diversity in Innovation Toolkit’; whilst networks like Women in IP or IP Inclusive serve to redress diversity imbalances through regular events and ideas exchanges. As well as being great forums to see what is working in other organisations in adoption and retention of female talent, many of these also have charters to encourage accountability for improving D&I across the patent profession.
If you are looking to develop and grow your IP and Legal departments, we would be delighted to assist. Whether you are looking for your next career opportunity, help expanding your team, or assistance with mergers and acquisitions, contact us today for a confidential discussion.