We operate at the forefront of technology but the IP professions are often the slowest to adopt new approaches to doing business. Our pool of clients continues to increase in diversity and we need to reflect this in the way our firms are made up. Nowadays large corporate clients are insisting that firms with which they do business have a strategy to support a diverse workplace.
Many famous business leaders have overcome prejudice to achieve success and want to pave an easier way for those that follow them.
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, attributes much of his success to dyslexia and learning disabilities and the resultant need to delegate. Many of us with neurodiverse conditions excel in particular areas that can be used to advantage. Other famous entrepreneurs with dyslexia include fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger and Apple founder Steve Jobs. A diverse team covers all bases and is stronger.
Numerous well-known people with disabilities are supporting initiatives to reduce some of the hurdles that they faced. These are helping to increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace. But the world, and the IP professions in particular, have a long way to go.
Within our firms this starts with recruitment. Think about it – if you have a job applicant who is wheelchair bound do you discount them immediately or consider whether he/she/"they" can be accommodated? And what if they prefer not to state their gender? Do you consciously or unconsciously discount someone with a particular surname/from a lesser-known educational establishment? Do you recruit by word of mouth and thereby increase the chances that you recruit in your own likeness?
And I haven't even started on the more obvious issues such as race or religion ...
FICPI-UK is proud to count itself as one of the founding organisations of a task force dedicated to diversity and inclusion in the UK IP professions, IP Inclusive. The leader of IP Inclusive is Andrea Brewster, a former president of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA). The aim of IP Inclusive is to implement a challenging range of diversity-improving initiatives, and this has been going from strength to strength over a period of six years with support from CIPA, CITMA, the IP Federation, FICPI-UK and the UK IPO. It's about doing more than just paying lip service to the principles of diversity.
At the root of inclusivity we need to encourage young people to study subjects that will equip them to embark on careers in IP. For this there is a dedicated outreach campaign: Careers in Ideas.
Within IP Inclusive a number of "communities" have been formed including "Women in IP", "IP and ME", and "IP Out". More recent additions include "IP Ability" and "IP Futures", and there will be more to come as we learn about the different issues that potential recruits to the professions face. IP Inclusive has hosted discussions on mental health, difficulties of carers (especially as the pandemic continues) and a whole range of subjects beyond those that first spring to mind when diversity is mentioned.
For a lot of us involved with IP Inclusive it's been a huge learning curve and it's broadened our minds to the importance of diversity in building strong teams. It's also forced us to examine some of our prejudices, conscious or unconscious.
Perhaps some of you have similar initiatives in your countries, in which case we'd love to hear about them and share ideas. Or perhaps this has inspired you to start something similar, in which case there's a wealth of information on the IP Inclusive website.
The moral and business case for diversity and inclusion is clear. Don’t be left behind.
• Find out more about the IP Inclusive initiative for the UK and explore similar initiatives in your area
How FICPI makes IP attorneys more effective
The FICPI community is built on trusted, global relationships with strong shared interest to promote common solutions and advocacy for private practice. FICPI forums, committees and meetings are opportunities to gather insights from the international IP attorney community and to discuss and further practice-related issues as well as topics of patent and trade mark law.