By Andrew Williams --
In a document entitled the "Push Forward Report," the Intellectual Property Owners Association ("IPO") Women in IP Committee pointed out that "[w]omen are under-represented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, including in the ranks of patent and licensing attorneys." In response to this concern, this IPO committee has prepared and shared tools that are designed to help build and expand on current practices to benefit women and diversity. These resources, found here, address concerns of implicit bias, provide recommendations for what both companies and law firms can do to support women in speaking with influence, analyze how work-life balance considerations may impact talent review and attorney development, and provide suggestions for counteracting the problem of "vague feedback" that women tend to receive in contrast to the granular detail generally received by men.
Implicit bias is "the unconscious attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decision," according to a White Paper produced by the Women in IP committee's Push Forward subcommittee ("Implicit Bias in the Legal Profession"). This report explains that there are different types of implicit bias. For example, there is confirmation bias, which causes people to pay more attention to information that confirms existing beliefs and disregard information that is contradictory. In addition, there is attribution bias that causes people to find more favorable behaviors and circumstances of their "in groups," and judge as less favorable those from their "our groups." Availability bias causes people to default to "top of mind" information, such as picturing a man when asked to think of a "leader." Finally, the report identified affinity bias as a form of implicit bias caused by the tendency of people to gravitate towards and develop relationships with people that share similar interests and backgrounds. This can result in a "'mirrortocracy' – not a meritocracy." Implicit bias not only impacts the career paths or women, but of "LGBTQ, racially/ethnically diverse, and disabled lawyers."
The IPO resources include a toolkit on identifying and addressing implicit bias, which consists of a comprehensive PowerPoint, entitled "Implicit Bias & Ethical Duties of Lawyers," which was presented at the IPO Annual Meeting last September in San Francisco, CA. First, the presentation explains what implicit bias is and how to identify it. Also included is an identification of laws and ethical rules that are impacted by implicit bias. But in addition to the help in recognizing implicit bias, this presentation provides suggestions for overcoming such bias, referred to as "de-biasing tips." These include instituting procedures during the hiring process to remove any reference to gender and/or race, or using a voice modulator to mask gender in early rounds of interviews; and increasing retention or women and minorities by encouraging matching with sponsors, offering clear and constructive feedback, and adoption of succession plans that are inclusive.
The IPO resources also include a toolkit to address "speaking with influence." The Push Forward report identified two significant issues that have prevented women from fully contributing in the workplace. First, upper management can end up discounting the contributions of women, even if unintentionally. Second, women can end up being reluctant to share their opinions due to concerns of being ignored or drowned out. Organizations need to support women to "speak with influence," because women are being prevented from fully contributing to their workplace, and in addition to impacting these women, it is also depriving the organization of valuable ideas. The provided toolkit includes a video and the accompanying PowerPoint slides that conclude with recommendations for what employers and employees can do to support women speaking with influence. These include facilitating informal interactions, instituting no-interruptions rules, and adopting practices that focus on ideas not speakers.
Another issue addressed by the IPO resources is the impact of work-life balance on talent review and attorney development. The toolkit also includes a video and accompanying PowerPoint slides on this topic. However, the material points out that this is not just a women's issue, because everyone should be included in the dialogue regardless of whether they have children, and everyone at a firm or company can benefit from work-life balance. The Push Forward report and toolkit focused on the problem that, during performance reviews and development discussions, work-life balance considerations can influence rating and development opportunities, even when firms and companies may have written policies relating to leave, flex time, and working from home. Suggestions for addressing the problem include ensuring that alternative work schedule policies are formalized, seeking to eliminate bias in evaluations by outlining the specific criteria being relied upon before beginning an evaluation, and ensuring equal opportunities related to development by assigning a staff member to work closely with employees on alternative schedules.
Finally, the IPO Women in IP committee sought to identify and address the problem of vague feedback that can disproportionately impact women. Too often, feedback for women is not tied to outcomes but rather includes general statements, such as "you are too aggressive," or "you had a great year." To overcome this problem, the Push Forward report and accompanying toolkit suggested that evaluators outline specific criteria being relied upon before starting evaluations, discuss three to five specific outcomes for all employees, and systematically tie feedback to business and goal outcomes (whether positive or negative). Moreover, evaluators are encouraged to treat people in similar roles the same, including equalizing references to technical accomplishments and capabilities, and writing similar length reviews for all employees. In addition, to overcome a tendency of some women to assume that their good work will always be noticed and rewarded, employees should all complete a self-review of performance so that they can highlight accomplishments that may or may not have been overlooked. For employees being evaluated, the toolkit suggests that they be specific in their own self-evaluation, that they be proactive in obtaining feedback from supervisors, that they clarify expectations and get them in writing, and that they maintain records.
On a related note, the American Conference Institute's 5th annual Women Leaders in Life Sciences Law begins this week on July 25-27, 2018 in Boston, MA, during which similar issues will be discussed. As a reminder, MBHB attorneys Alison Baldwin, Paula Fritsch, Ph.D., Lisa Hillman, Ph.D., Sarah Fendrick, Ph.D., and Jelena Janjic Libby, Ph.D. will be attending this conference. Also, Patent Docs readers are entitled to a 10% discount off of registration using discount code P10-999-PTD18 –– but hurry because registration is closing soon.