Diversity findings are fascinating

18th Jun 2021

Lord Chris Smith explains which responses to a recent sector survey he found most remarkable.

Diversity findings are fascinating

One of IPReg’s key priorities over the next few years is to stimulate, encourage and facilitate greater diversity in the IP profession. This happens to be one of the major objectives that the Legal Services Board has established for its family of regulators, but this isn’t the principal reason why we want to do it. The most important reasons for encouraging diversity are that it helps the profession resemble more closely its customer base, and that it also ensures the widest possible pool of talent is brought into the IP business. An increasingly diverse profession will be a better profession.

That’s why IPReg recently contacted all of our registered attorneys and asked if they might complete a diversity questionnaire for us. We had a rapid and good response, with 1,180 attorneys replying. The picture that emerged was fascinating: 42% were women, 10% were from a BAME background and 64% were in the 35-55 age range.

I was heartened by the number of women attorneys, but we need more progress too, especially in encouraging young women to study science and engineering in the first place. Equally, I was disheartened by the relative lack of people of colour coming into the profession. 

Two figures from the survey results really stood out for me, though. The first was that more than 40% said that they were part of the first generation of their family to go to university. I was really pleased to see this. It betokens greater social mobility within the IP profession than – sadly – exists in society more broadly. And the second was that 40% of respondents said they had caring responsibilities, mostly for children. This is a salutary reminder to us that we need to make sure that we shape our rules and requirements – for continuing professional development, for example – while bearing in mind the fact that many attorneys will have periods in their career when childcare needs will come first. 

We are still analysing the figures carefully, and we hope to repeat the exercise in future years so that we can establish patterns and trends more clearly. But, in the meantime, we need to learn as many lessons as we can. We must redouble our efforts to support the fantastic work of IP Inclusive. We must continue to support schemes encouraging young women to go into STEM subjects. And we must advocate strongly for the most diverse, welcoming and inclusive profession possible.  

I know personally – from the world of politics – how important this inclusivity is. When, 35 years ago, I became the first MP to come out publicly as gay, I believed passionately that anyone – no matter who or what they were, or what sexual orientation they happened to have – could be a valid representative for their constituents in Parliament. The same is surely true of trade mark and patent attorneys working for their clients. In the years ahead, let’s do even more to demonstrate that truth. 

The Rt Hon the Lord Smith of Finsbury

Chair of IPReg  

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