Today’s blog article has kindly been provided by Julie Barrett-Major, consulting attorney at A. A. Thornton & Co., which is one of our Charter signatories.

Julie writes: Since being asked if I would contribute to this blog, I have been wondering what to write about.  Some topics were suggested to me and also perhaps my first blog should introduce myself.  But, in the last few of weeks, a number of items hit the press that provoked thoughts; it seems ‘plus ça change’.  I have been in the IP profession for a long time, and I was a bit out of the normal mould when I started (some would say I still am!).  I was female for a start, not from Oxbridge, not from the usual ‘class’, and I’d managed to mix my Chemistry degree with a non-science subject.  Congratulations to the Wellcome Foundation Ltd and Laurence Jenkins, CPA, for giving me an opportunity to have – what I still regard as – an interesting and absorbing career.  Along the way, I have been a member of the Council of CIPA and various of its committees, worked in various organisations – both private practice and in-house – and also set up my own business while my children were young.

I have many stories to tell about ‘non-inclusive things’ (which I shall from now on call NITs) that either happened to me or that I came across – some of which I’ll write about in future blog posts.  But the recent press reports made me think of one NIT – which is actually a pair of NITs  in particular:  a young woman, who was young, single, newly-qualified and worked in private practice, telephoned me in my office and asked what she should do about the facts that: (NIT1) her firm had magazines in their reception area that she felt demeaned women; and (NIT2) she had effectively been told she would never make partner because she was likely to have children ‘fairly soon’.

I must admit my initial reaction may not have been the most helpful.  Brought up as an engineer’s daughter and used to venturing into man-filled workshops that all had calendars on the walls depicting scantily-clad women, I was inclined to suggest she get the male equivalent of a ‘Calendar Girls’ item and hang it prominently in the reception area – and see what happened.  We also discussed whether her firm’s partners were clairvoyant and, if so, could they save me buying a little blue testing kit, too.  That was about 35 years ago.  Surely a lot has changed since then?

But I keep reading stuff in the media that makes me think we haven’t come very far.  Admittedly, when last year roaming a few firms/companies on job interviews, I didn’t notice any naked bodies in receptions and no-one asked me about my child-bearing aspirations – but both of these things could be a feature of my advancing years.  However, there has been the recent furore over Google Software Engineer James Damore’s allegedly sexist memo which has led to revelations that Google-employed females can be paid as much as £30k less than their male counterparts [Evening Standard, 09 August 2017].  Significantly, the UK government has only this year introduced changes that require all companies of 250+ employees to publish their gender pay gap statistics [CityAM,17 July 2017].

But pay seems to me relatively easily fixable – although arguably that is an unsupportable statement, since it clearly has not been fixed despite decades of ‘equal pay for equal work’ campaigning.  However, the matter is at least quantifiable and tools are available for such comparisons.  What seems much more difficult to fix is the so-called ‘glass ceiling’ that is still so difficult for women to pass through on their way to partnership, directorship or other senior organisational position.  Is it not rather incredible that the ‘Clever, determined and outspoken’ (would a male judge have been described thus?) Baroness Hale of Richmond is headlined as ‘another legal first’ when her appointment as President of the Supreme Court was announced last month [The Times, 21 July 2017]?  Mind you, she is in about the only position where increased age is considered a pre-requisite, so at least she hasn’t been subjected to ageist prejudice.

But she has apparently said that “as the judiciary becomes more diverse, it would mean the loss of ‘boring old farts’ who all thought the same”.  At first, I was inclined to agree; but then I wondered how ‘inclusive’ that statement was.

Lady Hale has also been reported as bemoaning that so many of her legal colleagues belong to the Garrick Club (men only).  But is there really anything wrong with men’s clubs?  After all, I enjoy a ladies’ lunch every so often and recently went on a uni reunion where all male partners were banned.  We have clubs for all sorts of exclusive groups – people who want to play a sport, a musical instrument, paint etc.  Perhaps the answer is: in principle, no but in practice, yes.  The practical consequences of such men-only clubs is exemplified by arguments made in the recent case resulting in the Southwark Crown Court having to make their men-only robing rooms unisex.  Apparently the Old Bailey and Inner London Courts still separate the barristorial sexes.  According to the Evening Standard [22 August 2017], Judge Deborah Taylor had three reasons for her decision: first, the facilities and location of the men’s robing room was far superior to that of the women’s.  Well, that is fixable without mixing the sexes.  But there was also a reason of principle: simply that gender should play no part in the role or status of a barrister. And this leads to the more interesting practical reason: having different rooms meant that women were excluded from pre-trial conversations between male barristers that often led to agreements, in which the female lawyers could therefore not take part.

And it’s not only in the robing room that such exclusivity can occur – lots of decisions are made by men gathering off-site in pubs, sports clubs, on the golfing green etc.  However, maybe some of this has to do with the fact that women simply exclude themselves from such opportunities.  Many are not keen on such activities or have competing demands.  Or maybe they just feel it is not their place.  This made me wonder: is it considered bad for women to be excluded from male conversation and spaces, and yet not the reverse?  If not, why weren’t the men up in arms about not being able to be in the women’s robing room (apart from the facilities issue)?  I surmise that the answers to this question may say much more about the relative roles of male and female lawyers and how they are perceived or valued (or not).

Coming closer to home, do we have exclusive spaces and places in CIPA?  I went to a gathering at the new offices recently, and talk turned to Council membership and how there were not enough candidates stepping forward to warrant an election.  I was asked to consider standing again but, looking around the room at the Council members present (not all were there), it did seem little changed since I was last on Council, over 30 years ago: still largely Oxbridge, still largely male and still rather white, middle class.  I couldn’t comment on sexual orientation (need to know basis, only, please) or religion (although someone did comment that they were adding diversity on that issue!), but otherwise, as the Solicitors Journal put it last year, “the legal profession remains male, pale, and stale” [Solicitors Journal, 19 August 2016].  Not wishing to add to this characterisation, I thought it best to decline.  Will people of colour, relative youth, various backgrounds/lifestyles and energy, and having forward-thinking perspectives, please step up to the plate – do not exclude yourself from helping us to achieve diversity.

Please do comment, criticise, contribute in some way – let’s have a conversation and an IP-inclusive community.

Thank you Julie, for writing this blog article.  CIPA Council elections are taking place on Wednesday 6th September.  There are currently only six women out of a total of 26 Council members, which is lower than the percentage of female members of Parliament!  Any CIPA Fellow may be nominated for election.  Nominations should be made to Lee Davies, the Chief Executive in writing, and must include the consent of the Fellow being nominated.  Fellows may nominate themselves.

If you would like to write a blog article for IP Inclusive, on anything diversity related, please email Emily Teesdale of Abel & Imray. Guest bloggers are always very welcome!   

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