Marianne Privett and Francesca Rivers, co-chairs of our IP Ability community, were recently interviewed by Jonathan Walfisz for World Trademark Review. Here they share a summary of the interview. The article itself was published on 8 January 2020 on the World Trademark Review website, here.
IP Inclusive has made great efforts to improve diversity and inclusion within the IP profession, led by former CIPA President Andrea Brewster. A number of people within the IP professions (including Marianne, Francesca, Debra Smith, Karen Genuardi, Chris Clarke and Beth Marshall) had contacted Andrea to express an interest in or concern regarding disability-related issues and it was Andrea who recognised the mutual interest and brought those people together with a few legal professionals from Reed Smith (Carolyn Pepper and Jonathan Andrews).
During the interview Marianne explained that she has been in the IP profession for over 15 years and travelled extensively in that time visiting the EPO and attending conferences, and yet she’d never met a single visibly disabled IP professional. Francesca explained that when on secondment at a large global bank she realised that, in contrast to the working environment she was used to seeing in law firms, the working environment in the bank was much more representative of London’s diversity. The IP professions appear to have a lot of catching-up to do regarding diversity and inclusion in comparison with other professions.
Both Marianne and Francesca recognise that one of the barriers for improving diversity within the IP professions is the relatively small size of the IP firms that employ the majority of IP professionals. However, as Francesca explained, even a small employer can signpost an inclusive community (such as IP Ability) to show their staff that they care.
IP Ability started their community with a launch survey and the initial results have confirmed that one of the greatest issues faced by disabled members of the IP professions is the stigma associated with disability. Although an employer can do its best to dispel stigma, external influences may mean that some disabled employees may not want to draw attention to a disability by requesting equipment or working arrangements that differ from those available to other employees. Hence employers can help accommodate disabled employees by offering all employees workplace adjustments and flexible working arrangements, not just the employees who identify as disabled.
IP Ability have been approached by employers asking what they can do to help support disabled employees. Francesca explained that making sure policies related to disability and workplace adjustments are readily available can help since then employees can obtain guidance before deciding whether to talk to their employer. Workplace adjustments are to the benefit of employers as well as employees and can often be provided at a relatively low cost.
Plans for 2020 are still in the early stages but IP Ability hope to provide a range of educational, awareness-raising and networking events. They will also be sharing the results of their launch survey shortly. Keep an eye on their website page here, or sign up to their mailing list.