Diversity in IP practice: what does it mean?

The IP professions, and the UK legal professions generally, are keen on promoting diversity in the workforce.

The Law Society and SRA impose diversity obligations on solicitors, for example requiring each firm to collate diversity statistics and publish them. IP Draughts’ firm’s statistics – now a little out of date – can be found here. Before being accepted as a member of a Law Society committee, would-be members must take an online course on diversity. Committee chairs are required to take further online courses on diversity and disability. Shortlisting of applicants for committee vacancies is done “blind” without seeing the names of the applicants.

The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys and other IP professions have formed IP Inclusive, and an increasing number of firms have signed up to its charter.

Some might say that such initiatives are particularly necessary in the legal professions, which are perceived as lacking diversity.

IP Draughts attended a meeting earlier this week – all the other participants were not lawyers – at which one of the people present referred to an initiative to help women to progress in the workplace, and another participant expressed the view that the best person should be chosen for a job, irrespective of gender. IP Draughts commented that how one defined the requirements of the job might affect who would be regarded as “best”. He cited the example of the UK Supreme Court, where only one woman has been appointed, and where traditional selection criteria may militate against certain types of candidate.

This exchange reminded IP Draughts that the legal professions may be ahead of some other sectors when it comes to talking about diversity. This is not meant to be a cynical comment. Talking is the first step in getting new attitudes embedded in an organisation.

An issue for IP Draughts is that diversity can mean so many different things, and that initiatives to improve diversity may tackle the most visible examples – gender and skin colour – while failing to improve the overall culture of an organisation. Measuring diversity through statistics is a very blunt instrument; it may result in improved statistics but not fundamentally change attitudes.

The UK Intellectual Property Office recently sent IP Draughts a copy of its corporate plan for 2017-2020. Most of the document is concerned with the IPO’s outward-facing activities. Among its high-sounding corporate objectives was the following statement on its internal values, which IP Draughts found very encouraging:

We believe we are an organisation where difference is valued and one where our people feel able to bring their whole selves to work. Nobody in the IPO should have to change who they are when they come to work just to ‘fit in’*.

*A 2013 study by Deloitte revealed that 61% of respondents covered up an aspect of themselves at work.

Giving people space to be themselves at work is, in IP Draughts’ view, an extremely important part of the larger diversity agenda, and it is good to see the IPO focussing on this aspect. Much earlier in his career, IP Draughts was in a job where he felt he had to suppress a significant part of his personality in order to ‘give the right impression’. It made him determined, when he started his own firm, to create a different atmosphere for staff.

Giving people space needs to be combined with recruiting people whose skills and attitudes will contribute to the common enterprise. For example, if ‘being oneself’ means being anti-social, disruptive, lazy or incompetent, then that contribution is not being made. But as long as the overall objectives of the organisation are being met, and the individual is making a positive contribution, they should have reasonable freedom to be themselves.

IP Draughts was interested to read the news that a leading international law firm, Linklaters, is offering people a 40-hour week in return for a one-third salary drop. This could be viewed as an initiative that will help to promote diversity, whether it be for the person who has caring responsibilities, or the person who simply isn’t cut out for 60-hour weeks (if that is what is usually required) or who isn’t interested in being a millionaire but wants to do good work in a prestigious firm.

Ultimately, valuing people as individuals, and reducing the expectation of social conformity, may lead to greater progress on all aspects of diversity than targets, statistics or policy statements.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Employment, Intellectual Property, Legal practice

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s