World IP Day: Q&A with Asta Valdimarsdottir of WIPO


World IP Day: Q&A with Asta Valdimarsdottir of WIPO

Asta Valdimarsdottir, director of the operations division of the Madrid Registry at WIPO, discusses the need for a shift in attitudes and gender strategies.

Did you face any challenges or barriers when you started your career?

As a mother of two children and later as a single parent, it was at times challenging to find balance between work and family. Like most women, I wanted to perform well in all my roles: at work, as a mother, daughter, sister, and at home.

While there’s been progress, women in most cases are still struggling to find the right balance and deal with social and family pressures. For instance, I had to travel a lot for work when my children were infants and I could sense some disapproval from friends and family—and, ironically, from other women.

At work, I faced my set of challenges as a young female lawyer. Looking back, my coping mechanism entailed projecting an older look to bypass the “young lawyer” bias. That’s not to say that there are gender biases in the public sector per se as I was given many opportunities and the possibility to substantively influence IP policy.

At some point in a woman’s career—and I am no exception—one is unfortunately confronted with discriminatory attitudes, such as patronising or belittling comments. I’m hoping for a shift in these attitudes as the world becomes more aware of the detrimental consequences on society and in the workplace.

What did you understand about IP before you joined the industry?

"Some women stumble at a stage when they are very close to succeeding in bringing their ideas to the market. We need to analyse why this is and tackle it."

When I studied law at the University of Iceland there were no specialised courses on IP, but the subject was a small part of a general course in property law. That was enough to spark my curiosity and interest in IP.

I ended up writing my thesis on “Transfer of Patents and Trademarks” and deciding that I wanted a future in IP. This led to me to a job at the Patent and Trademark Department of the Ministry of Industry and later at the Icelandic Patent Office where I had a front-row seat to the massive changes in the IP landscape both nationally and internationally, including Iceland’s membership to WTO and implementation of the TRIPS Agreement.

How do you think women’s role in the IP and innovation industry has changed since then?

While the stereotypical senior manager in the area of IP management remains male, we note an increasing number of well-educated, female university graduates and more women in research and development.

Women are also more economically independent, socially autonomous and making their mark as entrepreneurs. Technology has also had a very positive impact as more people can now find a better life-work balance by working remotely.

What more can the IP and innovation industry do to encourage the participation of women?

It’s important to acknowledge the need to support women generally in business and the need for more role models to encourage young women to go down this path. Generally speaking, in my experience, women are less likely to take risks when going into business ventures. However, those who do take the leap are not at all risk-averse and many are successful.

It is absolutely essential to support creative women and innovators in their quest to take the next step to startup projects or companies.

What policies can be used support innovative and creative women in bringing their ideas to market?

A specific gender strategy is needed in universities, businesses and organisations. Some women stumble at a stage when they are very close to succeeding in bringing their ideas to the market. We need to analyse why this is and tackle it.

Who or what inspires you?

It is inspiring for me to see the progress made in my country, Iceland. It is amazing to see young women in all roles in society and increasing numbers are well educated scientists that are starting their businesses. That is truly inspiring.

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