Outnumbered in a male dominated industry, the women in Intellectual Property Law are creating global networks to actively promote and help each other out – in work as well as in life.
Carol Thorstad-Forsyth is a Partner at US law firm Fox Rothchild LLP. With a degree in the field of Electrical Engineering, she is used to being the odd one out.
“To be a woman in this field, you have to grow in strength. You have to demand attention to make your voice heard. Sometimes people speak over me but I have learnt how to handle it. Over time, I’ve become more confident and increased in strength as a person. Thanks to the success I have enjoyed in my field, I am confident and that confidence breeds strength.
“Often I sit in a room, and I am the only woman there. At these times, my confidence and strength are great assets.”
Balancing work and family
Being a career-driven woman in IP Law in the US often means struggling to balance work and family life. Mother-of-two Carol had 12 weeks paid maternity leave with her second-born; but chose to take only eight weeks with her first.
“I was lucky as my law firm offered generous maternity leave. Not everybody is as fortunate.”
The situation for women in IP law varies dramatically between the continents. Sidsel Hauge, Vice President at Awapatent and CEO at Awapatent A/S, is based in Denmark.
“We take things for granted which should not be taken for granted [in Denmark]. We can take care of your own kids, work from home and decide how we want to plan our day,” says Sidsel.
“I was able to do the EQE [European Qualifying Examination] and become a partner in my firm when I was on maternity leave. I don’t think it would have been possible in the US.”
“In my experience, when people feel like their employer genuinely cares about them and their well-being is when they are at their best and deliver at optimal levels.”-Ai-Leen Lim
In Asia, women in IP are often helped by their own family network or domestic help, says Ai-Leen Lim, CEO and Principal Counsel at AWA Asia:
“In Asia, at least where I have practiced in the course of my career: Singapore, Hong Kong and mainland China (the PRC), where most expect the terrain to be less favourable for women, it is actually rather interesting that many heads of department/heads of IP in private practice and in in-house positions are actually women,” says Ai-Leen.
“Admittedly, the IP industry shows a far more balanced representation of women in leadership positions, than for instance the corporate sector. Perhaps IP is a more international type of practice in Asia (with the need to service more international clients from overseas), and which requires strong English language and communication skills, the ability to bridge cultures and therefore there is less room for any gender bias, but rather on technical skills and these rather essential additional soft skills.
“Women in Asia are also helped by the fact that domestic support is easily accessible either through their own extended family network and/or supplemented by domestic helpers and care givers of children and the elderly.”
The role of the employer
Ai-Leen stresses the importance of support from the management when faced with a changed life situation such as motherhood in the case of women.
“The crux of the matter is to spot the real life challenges faced by talent we want to retain and promote and to guide them through their professional journey without them feeling penalised for the situations they find themselves in,” says Ai-Leen.
“It could be flexibility that does not impact effectiveness of the task at hand, a broader definition of ‘a job well done’, or simply a listening ear, a generous dose of empathy and some practical support.
“In my experience, when people feel like their employer genuinely cares about them and their well-being is when they are at their best and deliver at optimal levels.”
Older generations of women helping the younger
In an international industry like Intellectual Property, global support is crucial for the promotion of women. With a mission to ‘inspire and empower women in IP to reach their potential’, American Intellectual Property Law Association’s (AIPLA’s) Women In IP Law Committee (WIIPC) offers a valuable platform.
Carol, who also chairs the WIIPC’s Outreach Subcommittee, has noticed a trend in women from the previous generations paving the way for the younger.
“I find that in AIPLA’s WIIPC, there are generations of women who have become very high positioned in corporations and law firms on an international level. As such, there is now an improved ability for the younger generations of IP attorneys to more easily find champions to assist in their career advancement. The older generations have a genuine desire to help promote and advance other women. These women look back at their own struggles and want to help the younger generations.”
Randi Karpinia, Director of Intellectual Property Law at Motorola Solutions and Chair of AIPLA’s WIIPC, is one of those women. Under her, there is a defined advancement of promotion of women. According to a recent interview for Managing IP, Randi wants to change how the women in IP deal with negativity by helping each other out and empowering each other.
“It is not just business support; it is life support.”-Carol Thorstad-Forsyth
Just a phone call away
There is undoubtedly a flourishing support network making an everyday difference for women in IP law across the globe.
“We keep in contact and forward work to each other. We not only promote each other in business, but also create lasting friendships. Through being women in IP and working towards the same career goals, these friendships have blossomed on an international level. I’ve made friends all over the world,” says Carol.
“It is not just business support; it is life support.”
Carol and Sidsel speak with enthusiasm about the friendships gained from the global network of women in IP. No matter the distance, the needed support is just a phone call away.
“Sometimes we pick up the phone and ask each other, ‘How did you get through this? How did you deal with it?’ I have never had a phone call turned down by any of these women,” says Carol.
“We speak about balancing work and life. Everyone has their own story and a way of making things work for them. Listening to others’ stories really helps. You can take what they said and try to implement parts of it into your own life situation.
“It’s a true support system in all avenues of life. We celebrate birthdays and the births of each other’s children. We also provide support to each other in difficult times.”
Events across the world
The number of women in IP is generally small and very dispersed across the world, although there are fields with a higher percentage of women such as Biotech and Chemistry. AIPLA WIIPC is making an effort to bridge the geographical gaps with regular events. The committee serves as a platform to connect, but there are also LinkedIn and Facebook groups as well as local projects.
“It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, we now have platforms to make the introductions and the friendships come naturally,” says Carol.
About 1400 women are members of AIPLA WIIPC, representing most parts of the world. The committee hosts numerous annual events. The main events are Breakfasts held as part of AIPLA’s three Annual Conferences (the Annual Meeting in Washington D.C., the Mid-Winter Institute, and the Spring Meeting in California), but AIPLA’s WIIPC also offers several smaller events which business entities can host locally on a lower budget.
“Of course it is because of your own merits, but having this network of women can definitely help you advance your career and put your mark on the IP community.”-Sidsel Hague
Putting their mark on the IP industry
Carol and Sidsel both see a growing trend of women putting their mark on the IP industry; something that could be the result of the strong support network.
“There seems to be more speaking opportunities for IP practitioners. When you speak, you are offering your knowledge and expertise within the field. In some instances, you are required to write an article as part of the speaking engagement, which provides you with a publication opportunity. These opportunities can help women in IP put a mark on the industry,” says Carol.
“Of course it is because of your own merits, but having this network of women can definitely help you advance your career and put your mark on the IP community. There is a genuine desire to help and promote each other. It is not about excluding men. It is about inclusion and opportunity. The goal is to keep and retain women in IP and help advance them.
“By creating these friendships and networks, I think we can achieve that goal,” says Sidsel.
Awapatent hosts AIPLA’s 2017 Women in IP Global Networking Event
4 May Copenhagen, Denmark
Just like the previous years, Awapatent will participate in AIPLA’s 2017 Women in IP Global Networking Events. The event is a meeting of women located around the globe who practise IP law. Awapatent will host one of these events at our Copenhagen office.
For more information on AIPLA’s Women in IP Committee, please click here.