Diversity, equality, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) was the topic of Workshop 4 at the FICPI World Congress 2022 in Cannes in September 2022.

The workshop was led by Dr Emily Dodgson of Abel + Imray LLP in the UK with Dr MaryAnne Armstrong and began with a brief presentation on the FICPI DEIA committee co-chaired by Dr Sharon Crane and Elia Sugrañes.   

The DEIA committee aims to support FICPI's ambitions to be a diverse and inclusive organisation, and to assist FICPI members in making their own firms more diverse and inclusive. The aim of the workshop was to understand views and experiences in connection with DEIA within the FICPI membership.   

Diversity and inclusion must go together

Participants discussed why DEIA was of interest to them and its relevance in the IP industry. 

Is it important not only to be diverse (i.e. have people with different characteristics working together) but to operate inclusively so that everyone (whatever their characteristics) feels part of and are treated as belonging to the group?

It is the combination of both diversity and inclusion that leads to equality and delivers the benefits of having a more diverse organisation.     


Affinity bias

During the workshop, attendees were invited to try an exercise known as the circle of trust.

In this exercise, participants write down a list of the initials of the 6-10 people who they trust the most (excluding family members). 

The facilitator reads out some characteristics (e.g. gender, nationality, age (roughly), race, native language, accent, educational background, social class, religion, etc.) and participants place a tick beside those people on their list who are similar in respect of that characteristics to themselves.

For example, male participants will place a tick beside all men on their list, white participants will place a tick beside all white individuals on their list.  Often participants find that many of their trusted people have several of the same characteristics as themselves. 

This reflects the phenomenon of affinity bias, whereby people extend not only greater trust, but also greater positive regard, cooperation, and empathy to people like themselves. 


How would your firm score in the affinity bias test?

The workshop then discussed how this affinity bias may manifest in the workplace, for example leading to a tendency for managers to hire, promote, or otherwise value more highly those who have attributes or qualities in common with their own. 

This tendency is illustrated by a study discussed in the recent IPO paper “The Myth of the meritocracy in law firms and corporate legal departments” (IPO members only), which showed partners in a law firm gave a legal memo significantly lower ratings when they believed it was written by a black associate. The same memo, with the same errors, was viewed as more meritorious work when seen as coming from a white associate. 

Participants were invited to consider how their own firm and FICPI would perform against a modified version of the checklist produced by the UK organisation IP Inclusive

Points on that list include: 

  • Have you signed up to local diversity organisations?
  • Do you have a DEIA officer?
  • Do you have a DEIA policy?
  • Do you have a diversity committee or something similar? 
  • Do you provide unconscious bias training? If so, to all staff or only some?
  • Do you have your own support groups or mentoring schemes forparticular groups who might be disadvantaged in the workplace? 
  • Does your organisation take active steps to remove bias from its processes and systems?
  • Does your firm get involved in DEIA events and campaigns?
  • Do you collect DEIA data?
  • Do you have a mental health at work policy?  

The attendees also shared examples of best practice they had come across in their own and other firms to encourage diversity and inclusivity. 

This included initiatives such as mentoring schemes, reviewing recruitment processes to remove barriers and encourage applications from underrepresented groups, inviting staff from underrepresented groups to talk about their experiences, increased flexibility in terms of work patterns (part time working, flexitime, remote working) and menopause education.

The workshop outputs will inform the work of the FICPI DEIA Committee going forwards.


FICPI’s view and involvement

FICPI is the only organisation exclusively for independent IP attorneys, bringing practitioners from around the world together to connect, share knowledge and grow, through occasions such as the FICPI World Congress, as well as events such as the Open Forum and regular FICPI webinars. IP attorney members can get involved with FICPI work to promote common solutions and advocacy for private practice through FICPI Commissions and Committees.


Next steps

  • Consider becoming involved with FICPI’s DEIA Committee
  • FICPI members and Congress attendees may access presentations and reports from the FICPI Congress 2022 in Cannes by clicking here. Workshop 4, on the topic of DEIA, was held on 27 September.
  • Find out more about the 21st FICPI Open Forum, being held in October 2023