Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. We’ve been asking IP Inclusive supporters for their thoughts on this year’s theme, #BalanceforBetter. Here are some from Andrea Brewster, leader of IP Inclusive and a member of our Women in IP committee.
Please send us yours to add to the debate. Are we nearly there with the gender balance in today’s IP professions, or do we still have a long way to go? What challenges have you seen and what would help bring us more quickly to the parity we’re seeking?
When I joined the patent profession in the late 1980s, it was well below 10% female. Those were the days when in CIPA publications, men were referred to by their initials and surname, but women had to be labelled as Miss or Mrs: a constant reminder that our status in society depended not only on our professional qualifications but also on our ability to find a man to underwrite us.
A lack of balance is inherently unstable. It is disorientating. Women had to work hard to make the most of what was essentially their “novelty value” in the workplace – it was all too easy to become the resident Trouble-Maker, or if you tried too hard to be liked, to be liked for the wrong reasons. It was tiring always to be the unusual item in the room, to have to prove yourself in the face of the omnipresent “despite” (“Do you understand these cross-sections, my dear? Usually women can’t cope with engineering drawings.”). The progress we’ve made since then is definitely something to celebrate.
These days, when I invigilate for the patent qualifying exams, I see about 30% women. But I do wish it would increase more quickly than it has. And I particularly look forward to the day when those 30% find their way into the boardrooms and the partnerships, because only when women are part of the landscape, rather than manifestations of the “unusual” and the “despite”, can they be genuine role models for the next generation.