Why moving the dial on DEI is critical to future success

The continued prosperity of the international IP industry depends on its ability to develop and implement diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives with lasting impact. Firms that embrace these efforts can attract and retain a wider range of diverse talent, serve their clients with a more nuanced perspective and build global influence as a talisman of social responsibility.

As part of WTR’s annual Global Leaders, we asked movers and shakers in the trademark world to share the concrete steps that they are taking to improve access to opportunities, empower employees of all backgrounds and create meaningful change within their workplaces.

Their responses emphasise that the seeds of progress are planted through inclusive recruiting and hiring processes that build trademark teams representative of the communities that they serve. However, getting people through the door is only the start of this journey. It is just as crucial to nurture the diverse talent already in-house, developing leaders and ingraining mentorship, allyship and trust into a firm’s ethos.

Purposeful recruiting

For too long, some members of the legal industry – intentionally or unintentionally – have treated DEI considerations as a box-ticking exercise in the recruitment process.  

To counter this, firms must first “evaluate the channels through which [they] source candidates for open positions to determine if they are reaching diverse applicants who may not have otherwise found the position on their own”, claims Bruno Nunes, managing partner of Macau’s BN Lawyers.

It is also crucial to analyse job descriptions, removing language that may exclude certain groups of people and highlighting DEI initiatives, employee outreach groups and codes of conduct that exemplify an open-minded culture.

Pioneers in DEI recruiting attract diverse applicants because they genuinely value their unique backgrounds and perspectives – in addition to the requisite education, skills and experience. Stephen Jadie Coates, partner at Coates IP, a US firm comprising 80% women, puts it simply: “When you seek diverse experiences and skillsets in your legal recruits, the candidates are also diverse.”

Inclusive hiring

Conscious and unconscious bias towards candidates can often influence the hiring process. To mitigate this, firms must proactively and systematically root out prejudices in their talent evaluation.

Işık Özdoğan, a partner at Moroğlu Arseven in Turkey, suggests choosing “not to collect data on applicants’ ethnic backgrounds, religions or identities”. Representatives of UK IP firm HGF agree, encouraging hiring managers to “anonymise applications, broaden the number of people involved in the application process and recruit from different universities” to block prejudices from seeping into evaluations.

Many hiring teams also embrace standardised interviews to give all candidates a fair chance at success. While loose, free-flowing discussions may feel more relaxed to the interviewer – and even the interviewee – they can subconsciously promote hiring based on personal preferences, proving detrimental in the long run.

This is why Nunes and his hiring team regularly assess their interview questions “to ensure they are free from bias and do not exclude certain groups of people due to their race, gender identity or sexual orientation”.

Championing DEI in-house

“The IP industry can play a key role in promoting equal opportunities and diversity” across the legal landscape, says Satyapon Sachdecha, managing partner at Satyapon & Partners.  But to achieve this, firms must take concrete steps to practise what they preach.

Mentorship programmes are a great place to start. They open doors for diverse – particularly younger – employees by knocking down barriers to equity and inclusion, promoting cross-departmental relationships and exhibiting the value of strong leadership.

Özdoğan sees these benefits daily at Moroğlu Arseven, where dedicated mentors provide “coaching to staff when they move up the career ladder”.

Allyship groups are also excellent forums for supporting team members from marginalised backgrounds. They provide safe spaces for staff to advocate for themselves and others and to discuss inequalities in the office culture, building collective trust.

Consistent communication and delivery of specific DEI initiatives are also a key component of any firm’s success in this arena.

Whether it be the diverse Coates IP team enjoying chances to “engage in development activities and have front-line client contact and responsibilities” or new mothers benefitting from HGF lowering the hurdles that maternity leave “inherently places in front of [their] career progression”, all employees appreciate having their unique needs heard and met.

DEI’s inherent value

Supporting DEI fulfils an organisation’s moral obligation to treat others equally while also:

  • promoting diversity of thought;
  • raising work standards to meet client expectations;
  • increasing retention; and
  • developing the next generation of leaders.

To reap these rewards, IP firms the world over must invest time, money and effort in their corresponding initiatives. The benefits – to themselves and their employees – will be countless.

Global Leaders is WTR’s annual opportunity to showcase some of the world’s top private practice trademark experts, allowing them space to share valuable insight into the most pressing issues dominating the IP space and their thoughts for the future. The next edition is due to be published in July 2023.

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