Laëtitia Bénard, leader of Allen & Overy’s Paris IP practice and co-head of the life sciences group, outlines her hopes for the right legacy for future generations of women.
Did you face any challenges or barriers when you first started your career?
I passed the Paris Bar in 2000. At that time there were a large number of challenges for women, including the approach to human resource management, team structure and salaries.
Women in top management positions in the IP field were the minority and the industry was very conservative. Patent law in particular, because of the complex technical issues it entailed, was generally considered as “suitable for men only”.
"We are now seeing women having bigger roles in the IP industry and more female IP leaders, but there is so much more to do."
These challenges resulted in women leaving the IP profession and an ensuing lack of female leaders. For me, this meant a lack of inspiring IP leaders who weren’t men so I had almost to create my own career path.
What did you understand about IP before you joined the industry?
I decided to move towards IP as a law student because I very much enjoyed this subject during my studies. I enjoy literature, music and arts and choosing to follow an IP-oriented career allowed me to mix my two great passions: law and arts.
I was attracted by the idea that my skills would help protect great ideas and unique products, thus allowing me to make a contribution to these works. When I started studying IP law, I quickly became passionate about patent law, and immediately enjoyed the skills it required to be able to tackle both complex technical and legal issues.
How do you think women’s role in the IP industry has changed since then?
Even today, the collaboration among women is not where it could be, but there have been some improvements in recent years. Efforts have been made to inspire and empower women to reach their professional potential.
Also, there is a real commitment to facilitate a truly balanced life. We are now seeing women having bigger roles in the IP industry and more female IP leaders, but there is so much more to do.
What more can the IP industry do to encourage the participation of women?
It should encourage more cooperation between women and true diversity in the profession. Women and men bring different qualities to the industry; women have a huge potential and could become a major asset for any business. To realise this potential the professional environment needs to allow women to become aware of their capabilities and give them the opportunity to fully develop their skills.
The industry could also create more opportunities for women to grow personally and professionally at the same time. The workplace structure and demands should not force women to choose between a fulfilled personal life or a career, but offer a more flexible and innovative approach.
How can the industry support innovative and creative women in bringing their ideas to market?
By creating a forum for interaction among women in IP, allowing an exchange of experience and also to reflect on the changes to be made to the work environment, such as more flexibility and setting up communication channels.
The industry would also benefit from the creation of a national and an international network for women in IP to bring their ideas together. While there are some already in existence they are patchy across jurisdictions and a more global approach, with standardised local communities, would really help.
It goes without saying that while it is important to connect women together men should not be eliminated, and in an ideal world the community would be diverse.
Who or what inspires you?
Creating the right legacy for future generations of women. Our commitment today to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment will allow future generations to develop their full potential instead of being confronted with the challenges we have faced.
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World IP Day 2018, Laëtita Bénard, Allen & Overy, future generations, legacy, life sciences