We have another #SecretDiary excerpt!

​In this post, CIPA’s Immediate Past President, Andrea Brewster, writes about the recent CIPA and AIPLA Diversity in IP breakfast meeting:

13 June 2016

It is a year since our last Diversity in IP breakfast meeting, and people are getting hungry again. So, since the AIPLA are visiting London, we have organised a repeat. Only this year, I have been told not to use any silly gardening metaphors in my speech.

Out of deference to the social mobility agenda, or perhaps more accurately the social nobility agenda, we are holding this year’s breakfast in an oak-panelled banqueting hall in a 14th Century Inn of Court. In amongst the oak panels, there are dusty portraits of not-very-diverse but definitely dusty men, who have at various times in England’s dignified history been eminent enough to be allowed to look down their oil-painted noses at future generations of diners. There are also some uniformed servants scurrying around serving coffee, which is the nearest you get to social mobility, or indeed any kind of mobility, in an oak-panelled banqueting hall.

In deference to the gender agenda – if you’ll excuse the poetry – the heavy oak dining tables are flanked by long heavy oak benches. If you are wearing a frock, it is difficult to insinuate yourself onto one of these benches without revealing, to people you are insufficiently intimate with to warrant the revelation, undeniable proof of your femaleness. This is bad news for women like me, who have got on in life by claiming to have more, er, male bits than their colleagues, and can now be seen not to have any male bits at all.

At least we are not serving bacon for breakfast, which would have offended people of certain religions, or black pudding, which would have offended pretty much everybody. And if we vote for a Brexit on 23 June, next year’s Diversity in IP breakfast will be limited to toast and marmalade anyway: we will certainly not be allowed to serve croissants because croissants are European and will offend the patriots.

The breakfast is extremely well attended. I tell myself this is because an extremely lot of people are interested in diversity, and not because the breakfast is extremely free and therefore more attractive, today at least, than the Starbucks® down the road. The attendees include men, women and even some foreigners; a free breakfast is a great leveller. Also attending is a certain Mr Darren Smyth, who adds to the diversity on two scores: first, he is an IP Kat, and therefore the only representative of the wider animal kingdom, and second, he is wearing a waistcoat so multi-coloured that you feel like you’re looking at it through a prism. It is a joyous, vibrant waistcoat, the kind that happens when the people making it forget to stop, and it single-handedly raises diversity levels in the room by 300%. If I were a bloke, I might have to kill Mr Smyth and steal it. But I am not a bloke – see above.

After the uniformed servants have demonstrated their servility by throwing coffee into my saucer from a great height and only narrowly missing my, er, missing male bits, it is time for the speeches. First up is me. I put on my strict voice and tell the breakfasters that they have to start thinking a bit more about other people, especially the not-normal people from the minority groups, so that we can make them feel more welcome and more comfortable and generally be more Inclusive. This, I say, is at the heart of a happy, diverse community. I say, in essence: you cannot go around offering Muslims alcoholic drinks and inviting Jews to Friday evening meetings and asking people in wheelchairs to pop to London for the day. You cannot tell female colleagues to have babies because you feel it would do them good, or advise gay trainees not to come out before the next pay review. It just isn’t tactful.

I also say: it is about time we recognised how embarrassingly privileged most of us are, compared to the not-normal people in our midst. Not everyone, I say, knows a chardonnay from a sauvignon blanc. Not everyone speaks Latin. Shocking, but true.

As instructed, I do not use any metaphors. In some of these contexts the reality is bizarre enough anyway. And luckily, even with my strictest strict voice and my glariest glare, I do not appear to have put anyone off their European croissants. I do however suspect that the dusty old portraits are sneering.

Next, someone from the AIPLA tells us what they are doing on the diversity front. Being American, they are of course much more proactive about all this. They are Reaching Out and Leaning In and generally Bending Over Backwards to accommodate not-normal people, including the ones without male bits, ie Women in IP, for whom there is a whole committee. The British express support for one another in a more upright manner, except when they get drunk together, when they offer huge amounts of Reaching Out and Leaning In and Falling Over, but this kind of support is less useful and you are not allowed to rely on it the following day.

One of the great things the AIPLA’s Women in IP Committee does is to make sure conference speaker panels are at least partly female. I am not sure how they do this, because we all know that there is a shortage of decent female speakers, and anyway women usually decline invitations to be on panels, and this is probably because their brains are not wired right for public speaking. You only have to look at the average conference programme to see this is the case.

Still, I instantly resolve to copy all of the Americans’ ideas in our IP Inclusive Women in IP group. I also resolve to include as part of the Bending Over Backwards initiatives a women-only training course on Dressing for Success, or rather, Dressing To Avoid Embarrassment, for example the embarrassment of providing inappropriate disclosure of one’s, er, male bits. Or lack thereof.

Our final speaker tells us about the IP Inclusive Charter and what we’re going to do for the people who’ve signed up to it, which is to put on our strict voices and tell them to be nice to one another. It is not a difficult Charter to commit to: it does not ask you to do anything much other than be nice to other people; I am quite cross that some firms have not signed up to it yet. Luckily it is not me doing the talk about the Charter. The person who is doing the talk about the Charter says all sorts of encouraging things about providing the signatories with updates and guidance and access to useful resources, and sharing best practices within the community. She sounds almost American. I would be heart-warmed but I am British so I stick to a polite twitch of the lips in support.

Afterwards, various people come up to me to say they liked my speech but. The “but” typically relates to the concern that if we open our profession to lots more people, we might accidentally dilute our impeccably high standards though we do say it ourselves. We do not want to pave the way for mediocrity, after all. I refrain from pointing out that centuries of white middle class male dominance has not exactly stemmed the tide of mediocrity either.

Some folk also say: but not-normal people are not good enough at English to be proper IP professionals, and that is why they cannot join our impeccably wonderful profession though we do say it ourselves. And I think: With reference to the foregoing, my learned friend will appreciate that such a contention has heretofore been incontrovertibly proven to be a load of, er, male bits. A profession that will happily define a piece of technology using no verbs and scant punctuation, characterised in that it will happily write a letter which begins “With respect, it is submitted that”? Just how good at English do we want the not-normal people to be??

Sometimes I think we should forget the whole diversity agenda and go right back to basics. All IP professionals should have to undertake humility training. Plus a minimum of sixteen hours a year in the real world. And occasionally, a smack across the face.

Thankfully, there are many, many extremely nice people at the breakfast, who offer their support and encouragement and don’t seem fazed by the idea of being nice to others. So, replete with European pastries and a saucerful of coffee, I end the meeting feeling totally pleased with myself and full of optimism for IP Inclusive. I might not have any, er, male bits. I might have been sneered at by dusty, oil-painted eminencies. But we are going to make the IP professions more diverse and inclusive, even if we have to reach out and lean in and bend over each other to do it.

I relish the challenge.


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