Features, Opinions

Michael Ford, a trainee patent attorney at Alistair Hindle Associates, is our latest guest blogger and discusses the business case for improving diversity in the IP professions. Alistair Hindle Associates is one of the signatories of the IP Inclusive Charter for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

Michael writes:

“In today’s world of growing intolerance and fear towards difference, we all have a duty to make a commitment to diversity and inclusion.  Simply put, our workplaces should reflect the society in which we live and diversity is the reality of that society.  But we do not just have a moral obligation to commit to diversity – research confirms that a balanced and diverse workforce makes economic sense.  In order to reap the economic benefits, diversity and inclusion should no longer be viewed as the preserve of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agenda, constrained to a committee or a work-stream; these ideals should instead be adopted as integral to a firm’s cultural and moral fibre.

Solid evidence underscores the business case for diversity.  A diverse workforce will:

1. Improve innovation and creativity:
Publisher Malcolm Forbes once said that ‘diversity is the art of thinking independently together‘ [1]. The more diverse your workforce, the more you will benefit from the combined experience of people with different approaches and beliefs.

Case in point, a study by the Universities of Texas, Queens, Kentucky and Minnesota found that increased racial diversity in the top management of US corporations led to more competitive business actions, more creative advertising and greater sales incentives [2]. A different study published in the Harvard Business Review also confirmed that, while companies with more diverse leaders tend to outperform competitors, female employees of companies without diverse leadership are 20% less likely than straight, white male employees to win endorsement for their ideas [3].  In addition, the same study found that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are 24% less likely to win endorsement for their ideas, while for LGBT employees the rate of disadvantagement is 21%.

Bringing together a diverse group of employees and taking them seriously should ensure a business will get different points of view and different solutions to overcoming challenges. But it’s not just problem-solving which will benefit. The combined experience of the group will come with innovative and creative ways of working across all aspects of the business.

2. Attract and retain the best talent:
The less diverse your organisation is, the less diverse it will become. In fact, we know that two thirds of job applicants seriously consider the diversity of a prospective employer when making an application [4].   Firms can become trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle in which they fail to attract and hire the best people.  This cycle can be broken by ensuring everyone commits to a diversity policy. This will enable you to attract the best candidates from a wide range of backgrounds.However, simply recruiting a diverse workforce isn’t enough to make them stay. Firms also need to adopt an inclusive culture to make sure they keep the staff they recruit. Diversity Advocate Verna Myers’ quote sums it up perfectly: ‘Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance‘ [5]. It’s great to recruit from a range of backgrounds and cultures but unless you practise inclusion, you’ll end up losing talent as employees won’t feel they belong.3. Achieve economic growth:
Research shows that both top-level and overall company diversity leads to economic gains.  For example, in 2012 a team of researchers at the Credit Suisse Research Institute studied 2,360 companies globally from 2005 to 2011, looking for a relationship between gender diversity on corporate management boards and financial performance. The researchers found that companies with one or more women on the board delivered higher average returns on equity, lower gearing and better average growth [6].  Similarly, PWC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey found that, of the CEOs surveyed whose companies have a formal diversity and inclusiveness strategy, 85% said it had improved their bottom line [7].Progress in terms of diversity in, for example, the patent profession has been made.  Of patent attorneys identified in the CIPA membership list as qualifying between 1998 and 2000, only 18.7% were female. Fast forward and 39.5% of trainee patent attorneys recruited between 2010 and 2012 were female [Nicholas Fox, CIPA Journal, December 2013].  Although the data is not directly comparable, this does appear to be notable progress.  Nevertheless, given the length of time it takes for a trainee to reach full qualification, this means that we are still a long way away from gender equality in the patent profession, not to mention achieving realistic diversity in terms of race, socioeconomic background, disability or sexual orientation.

This is an industry-wide issue which isn’t something we can resolve simply within our own individual silos, but needs a concerted effort to effect a cultural change.  That’s why the work of IP inclusive is so important – we are part of a movement aiming to bring about a transformation in attitudes.

This blog article was kindly written for IP Inclusive by Michael Ford, a trainee patent attorney at Alistair Hindle Associates. If you are interested in writing for our blog, please email us.

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