(Note from the editor: none of our fee earners are, or claim to be, experts in Inclusion & Diversity. Our fee earners are passionate about these things and they felt passionate about sharing what resonated with them during a recent panel discussion hosted by the women of Kilburn & Strode.)

We know that, even today, it is more difficult for a woman to reach a senior position in IP than it is for a man. While the IP industry seems to be going in the right direction, there are still issues and behaviours that are holding things up and make it harder for women to reach the senior positions they strive for. It may sometimes feel like you have to “toughen up” or put on a “work persona” to get ahead in your career, as a woman. But, is that the best way to get to where you want to be?

We had the opportunity to speak to five brilliant women earlier this year and to hear their views on the topic of ‘How to progress your career and stay true to yourself’. Three key points struck a chord with us and we’ve come up with some things that we can all do individually (regardless of gender) and things that employers can do too to help create a gender-equal workplace, and to help women advance in their careers without compromising their values.

Of course, these are not easy topics and there are no quick fixes. However, we wanted to share some ideas for tackling issues that affect many people in IP.

Confidence that you are good enough (for the job, the title, the promotion, etc)

It can often feel that others have more skills than you, or are just “better” at their job. In reality, they may well just be talking louder (or more) about their achievements.

What can I do? Accept that things aren’t always what they seem. On a practical note, it may help to keep a list of your achievements and add to it when things have gone well. Bring these out when you have an appraisal, or when you ask for a promotion or pay rise, to help support your case.

Are you struggling to write something good about yourself for a pitch or even your website bio? How about asking a friend or colleague to write it for you? It is often the case that we are very good at saying nice things about other people and terrible about promoting ourselves. Let’s make that work for us!

What can my employer do? Ideally they should create and nurture a culture where people do not need to shout about their achievements to progress. A starting point may be to review how promotions are dealt with and how progress is measured. Many companies have a formally articulated programme to spot and grow talent in marginalised groups. Find out if your company has one, if it doesn’t seek out why not and if you can help create one!

Dealing with micro-aggressions

We’ve all been there. Are you always the one who is asked to make the tea? In a meeting, do clients speak to your (more junior) male colleague instead of you? An unnecessary comment here, a “well meaning” but inappropriate action there. At the time, these actions seem like small things which are not worth raising or making a fuss about. In reality, they are micro-aggressions, and if we let them pass by without commenting, it can give the impression to everyone present that these actions are OK. Whether they happen to us or others in our presence, they are worth raising, ideally at the time, or if not, afterwards at an appropriate opportunity. This is particularly true of people in more senior positions – doing nothing sends a message to more junior colleagues that these micro-aggressions are acceptable.

What can I do? Call out any micro-aggressions when you see them. We understand that it can feel daunting to have to do this in large groups or to someone in a more senior position than you, so we learned some great strategies (from panellist Luise Usiskin) for addressing any behaviour that you are not comfortable with. Some of these, are:

  • Keep it short and simple (brief comments work!). For example: ‘My name is Kathryn, not “darling.”’.

  • ‘FFF’: facts, feelings, future

    1. Fact: what has happened

    2. Feelings: how it makes you feel

    3. Future: what you want to happen in future

  • ‘UHT’: Understanding, However, Therefore

    1. Understanding: ‘I understand you don’t mean to cause offence…’

    2. However… (what is the issue or how did it make you feel)

    3. Therefore… (what you’d like to happen in future)

What can my employer do? We think having allies is key here. Knowing that, if you do flag unacceptable behaviour, your colleagues will be behind you can make all the difference. Raising awareness and propagating a culture where any undesirable comments or actions are called out and discouraged will surely enable colleagues to have the confidence to do so themselves. It also makes it very clear what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable to everyone in the workplace.

Role models

They are critical. Having someone to look up to who has been there and done that is so important. Even better, if they are willing to talk to you in a mentoring capacity, their support can be invaluable. A mentor is anyone who has wisdom to offer, and so could be at a different company, a different sector of IP or even someone outside of the IP profession.

What can I do? For those of us in the early stages of our careers, consider whether there is anyone within your own company that you could speak (confidentially) with. If there isn’t, or it isn’t a great fit, then (for those of us in the UK) IP Inclusive may be able to help. For those in more senior positions, perhaps you could offer to be a mentor to others?

What can my employer do? A formal mentoring scheme is not always necessary – even just raising the possibility that senior colleagues are willing to advise those more junior to themselves may be enough of a catalyst to get some worthwhile relationships set up.