Gender imbalance in the patent attorney profession is an underreported issue. And yet, women comprise less than a third of registered patent attorneys,[i] and occupy less than 17% of senior positions in the largest private practices in Australia.[ii] This is the first of a multi-part series exploring the topic of female representation in the patent attorney profession in Australia.

In this post, we motivate the issue by demonstrating the unequivocal business case for gender equality. Correlation between gender balance and better business outcomes has been established both economically and financially, both in terms of female representation at board level, in senior executive roles, and in organisation populations in general.

Studies conducted on ASX listed companies, and in particular the ASX500, found that companies with women on their board “deliver significantly higher Return on Equity (ROE) than those without”.[iii] In real terms, a five-year ROE for companies with women directors produced approximately double that of the ASX500 average, and almost twenty times that of companies with no women directors; a particularly pertinent result given the number of recently-listed patent attorney practices.

A McKinsey study released in 2010 examined over 200 companies across numerous industries in Europe, Brazil, Russia, India and China, and found that in terms of performance measures companies with the most women in their executive committees outperformed those with no women by between 41 and 56 percent. These results were also replicated in a further McKinsey study, with research also correlating higher firm valuation and mandated female board representation.

Directors and boards aside, correlation is also statistically significant among organisations with larger populations of female senior executives. In the aptly named, “Profit, thy name is… Woman?”, Adler describes a longitudinal study conducted by himself and colleagues at Pepperdine University on Fortune 500 companies. To summarise the “astonishing” results, companies who were the most aggressive at promoting women to senior levels outperformed industry medians on every profit metric for every year of the six years for which the study was performed. A sentiment which is echoed in many other studies.

Indeed, organisations with women in particular risk and audit roles also perform better, and are shown to be less likely to become insolvent. In terms of leadership styles, women are more likely to convey a “transformational” leadership style, as opposed to merely transactional. Furthermore, workgroups with fewer females have been shown to exhibit higher staff turnover, and lower staff mobility, than those with more balanced gender composition. Studies have also shown that collective intelligence of a workgroup is influenced by the number of females in the group; more women correlates with higher collective intelligence.

Whilst some may argue that these studies fail to demonstrate causality, merely correlation, one of the most compelling pieces of gender research pertains to a randomised trial in India. Mandated political reservations for women were introduced in randomly selected Village Council elections in the 1990s, such that thirty percent of seats could be occupied solely by females. Comparison of the investment decisions and public good outcomes established a causal link between the mandated presence of women and better investments and outcomes.

Ultimately, significant evidence is available to suggest that gender diversity is associated with better business outcomes. Consider also, the common-sense argument that greater diversity in business brings with it greater life experiences, more varied assumptions, and thus a greater propensity for constructive debate and hence smarter decisions.

Therefore – why aren’t there more female patent attorneys? Indeed, why aren’t there more senior female patent attorneys in private practice? Where are the female patent attorneys? (And – would the share prices of ASX-listed IP holding companies be in the same state they are in now, if they had more women in their ranks?)