Protecting the entrepreneurial spirit
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The categorisation of individuals due to gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation doesn’t encourage equality and we should be working harder to inspire both men and women to drive real change, says Karen Fraser of UDL Intellectual Property.
I have been a patent attorney for more than 15 years, specialising in technology, media and telecoms. My career started in Chennai, India, before I relocated to the UK in 2006. As an Indian woman, I’ve experienced my fair share of barriers to overcome in my career. I’ve had a number of mentors during this time who have played central roles in helping me progress to where I am today.
I’m proud to be part of this publication, surrounded by others who are driving inclusivity. Yet, I want to be recognised not for my gender, or where I’m from, but for my achievements, held up to the same standards as anyone else.
Bold ideas are now required to continue progressing and my hope is that by evolving further we can inspire great change, and this means continuing to push for diversity in traditionally male-dominated industries, making it normal for a mix of genders, ethnicities and more to be present in all groups and at all events.
"Our profession needs leadership and management teams with the skills and knowledge to effectively encourage and develop all people, irrespective of gender or background."
I couldn’t agree more with what Andrea Brewster, lead executive officer of the IP Inclusive initiative, said in the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (CITMA) review February 2020 edition: “More diverse and inclusive teams are not just happier, they perform better.”
Our profession needs leadership and management teams with the skills and knowledge to effectively encourage and develop all people, irrespective of gender or background. The action required by those of us in current or future leadership positions to achieve this doesn’t seem specific to female leaders, so we should be working harder to engage and inspire both men and women to drive real change.
More harm than good?
New research from the University of Edinburgh (“Breaking Glass: Toward a Gendered Analysis of Entrepreneurial Leadership” by Harrison, Leitch and McAdam, 2020) suggests that a key barrier to female success is women-only networking groups or events, which might do us more harm than good.
While such women-only business networks aim to connect and empower us to achieve our goals, are they now outdated, inadvertently reinforcing the age-old divisions that we seek to change?
I accept that, outside the business world, segregated support groups relating to issues such as health may well be relevant and are to be encouraged. Events targeting girls and young women to consider careers in previously male-dominated sectors are also hugely important.
In our profession, I believe that it’s up to us “influential people” to lead boldly from the front, to ensure that the most deserving people are always able to reach the top. I know many women who feel the same way—some even refuse to attend women-only business events out of principle.
Our focus should be on breaking down traditional business structures and environments. This means ensuring a strong female presence at historically male-dominated industry events and starting to pervade exclusive networking groups. We also need to spot instances of cultural bias and move towards eradicating them. This could well start with moving away from the women-only networks which serve to sideline us.
In addition, such networks don’t support other minority groups. No matter their gender, ethnicity, sexuality or disability, everyone should be able to achieve their goals. Since the legal sector is currently dominated by men—the very people we’re unlikely to reach with women-only networks and at “women in…” events—we need to evolve towards a more inclusive mindset. (I accept that “women in…” events are, in theory, open to men, but the name suggests otherwise.)
There are some simple steps we can take, right now, to inspire change and encourage inclusivity:
- Join inclusive business networks and attend inclusive events. A true mix of people should become the new normal.
- Use our positions of influence to have a positive effect on our younger colleagues by supporting and championing those hardest-working, irrespective of who they are, and teaching leadership qualities.
- Have a voice: make bold statements and continue to drive change and strive for inclusivity, breaking down traditional structures and calling out segregation.
It’s time for women’s contributions to be recognised and celebrated alongside everyone else’s. The categorisation of individuals because of gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation doesn’t encourage equality. In 2020, being a “woman in…” isn’t the unique selling point that will help us to truly make our mark in this industry.
WIPR’s Influential Women in IP events are open to all.
Karen Fraser is a partner at UDL Intellectual Property and is a European and chartered (UK) patent attorney. She specialises in patent matters relating to computer software and hardware, media streaming, and telecoms. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen Fraser, UDL Intellectual Property, diversity, diversity and inclusion,