The IP Inclusive/Careers in Ideas event “Upwardly Mobile: Recruiting Without Bias” was graciously hosted on 12 June 2019 by Marks and Clerk, at their new offices in Fetter Lane. The event was popular, with both fee earners and HR professionals turning up to discuss how we can improve practices within the IP profession to help diversify recruitment, especially from less advantageous socio- and economic sectors of society.
We first heard from two Chartered Patent Attorneys at different ends of their IP careers: Julie Barrett, leader of the IP-related business and career consultancy PurposiveStep, and Liam Dorr from Reckitt Benckiser. They shared with us their personal stories of the road to becoming a patent attorney, describing how they came upon the profession and some of the difficulties they overcame to get here.
One of the problems highlighted in their conversation, and repeated throughout the discussions afterwards, was that the IP profession seems to fly under the radar. Many people in the profession today appear to have found out about it by pure chance (as in the case of Julie) or through a friend or family member (as in the case of Liam). One of the questions raised was therefore how to educate people about the profession. Some avenues that were suggested included presenting at secondary schools, secretarial colleges and other pre- or non-university educational establishments to plant the idea of a role in IP – something that Careers in Ideas has been espousing for a while now. We were also exercised by how to spread the awareness within universities beyond the careers people and into, for example, the science, marketing, IT, media and other courses, so that the full spectrum of possible IP careers becomes better known.
Also discussed was the importance of mitigating unconscious bias during the recruitment process, for example by “blinding” candidates’ names, universities or (depending on the role) other CV items, at least in the early stages of recruitment. It was suggested that the use of an application form versus a CV and covering letter may help those who do not have access to help in “ticking the right boxes” in a letter.
The merits of contextualised selection were discussed, but this is an expensive option if an off-the-shelf software package is employed; however, some elements can be done ad hoc or “manually”. “Contextual recruitment” is an approach that takes account of the effort, aptitude and potential of people who, for example, may have done well compared to the average from a poorly-resourced or under-performing educational background. However, there is a natural tension between contextualising on the one hand and blinding on the other, as it is difficult to contextualise if you have no information about the context!
Training for interviewers, to help increase awareness of unconscious bias, was discussed, together with the stage at which practitioners (as opposed to HR professionals) should get involved in the recruitment of new team members. Transparency in the process to be followed, with an indication of the objectives/point of each stage, was deemed essential – to prevent unwelcome surprises for those not having been exposed to or coached in certain application/interview procedures.
We ended the scheduled session by breaking into groups to identify practices that we thought could help diversify recruitment and get the word out about the IP professions. People were eager to share their thoughts and ideas, and in the end we overran our timeslot by quite a bit and continued the discussion over refreshments afterwards! It seems that there is still much to discuss within this topic, and we anticipate that another event such as this will prove to be just as popular again.
We will shortly be publishing the key outcomes of the group discussions, in the form of recruitment guidelines, and would welcome the chance to take the conversation further, throughout the IP sector. Meanwhile our thanks go to Julie and Jay, and to Sheila Wallace of Marks & Clerk, for organising this event. All three are part of a Careers in Ideas working group that’s looking into socio-economic mobility both into and within the IP professions. If you’re interested in helping with their work, please get in touch.