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Diversity in the IP professions

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International Women’s Day seems particularly relevant to the UK IP professions this year.

International Women's Day, Sunday 8 March.
International Women's Day, Sunday 8 March.

Only a few weeks ago, a post on the IPKat blog about Managing IP’s “International Women’s Leadership Forum” sparked a heated – and not overly pretty – debate on gender equality and the value of gender-specific events.

At much the same time, representatives from across the IP professions were gathering for a round-table meeting on diversity.  Having convened this meeting in my capacity as Vice-President of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA), I was heartened by the support it received.


Professionals from a range of backgrounds, including the IPO, will now join forces on a package of measures to improve diversity in the IP professions.  We will be looking not only at how people are recruited into, and treated in, the professions, but also at critical issues such as widening the pool from which we recruit.  A vital part of that is to make the professions look more welcoming to minority groups from outside.

Of course this work will embrace all forms of diversity, not just gender.  But improving the number and treatment of women in IP will be a big part of it.  And that will be particularly important for the patent professions, which recruit from the science and engineering communities where women are still relatively poorly represented.

IP experts

The Women’s Leadership Forum took place on 24 February and was a huge success.  The delegates were largely, but not exclusively, women.  The panellists were also women, all of them top-notch IP professionals leading in-house departments or private practice law teams.  CIPA’s President, Catriona Hammer, was one of them.

She and I both sensed the importance of the event and of the message it conveyed, to those within the professions and also to those looking to join. Women are in IP, and they are doing well there.

What I found encouraging and refreshing, was the apparent ordinariness of the speakers.  They were there purely and simply for their IP expertise.  All too often, women’s support initiatives hinge around “inspirational” role models. These are women who’ve risen to exalted positions despite the odds, whilst also holding down a second career as a domestic goddess.

Such role models can be unhelpful.  Women should not have to be “inspirational” to take their seat at the table.  It’s enough just to be good at our jobs.  It’s OK not to be fabulous mums and domestic goddesses as well.  And it’s OK, really it is, to delegate stuff to someone else back home, as I suspect many “inspirational” men have been doing for decades.

Image of business woman sat at her desk.
Image licensed by Ingram Image.

Driving the agenda

So in March 2015, I’m reassured that women are beginning to feel comfortable in IP.  CIPA, for the first time, has a female President and a female Vice-President.  Our sister organisation, the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys, has just enjoyed a run of female Presidents, and its two current Vice-Presidents are women.

About a third of qualified patent attorneys are women, and about a half of qualified trade mark attorneys.  We hope to increase the proportion in patents, if we can just reach through to the schoolgirls who currently shy away from STEM subjects.

It’s clear that today’s “women in IP” are strong, confident and highly skilled.  They are helping to drive the agenda, not just taking the minutes.  These women are “inspirational” in the best possible way.  They are just getting on with being good at IP.  And that’s what matters.

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