25 May

“Inclusion depends on each of us”: Novartis International head of trademarks on diversity

Myrtha Hurtado Rivas, head of global trademarks and domain names for Novartis International AG, reflects on the diversity challenges that she has faced in the trademark world and presents the results of an informal poll of female IP professionals

Intellectual property may be a professional field where diversity is more advanced than elsewhere. But to make it fully inclusive, we need to avoid complacency and keep up the fight. I believe that diversity is only the first step to achieve a fair and balanced working environment. In this context, ‘diversity’ does not just mean gender, but includes differences in race, ethnicity, age, socio-economic status, physical ability, sexual orientation, political beliefs, religious beliefs and other ideologies. Like countless others, I have experienced feeling excluded based on a specific aspect of my life. Beside my sexual orientation, political beliefs and religious beliefs, I can recall instances of exclusion for all aspects. However, two are the most prominent: gender and ethnicity. I am aware that many think that the gender topic is outdated or obsolete but my personal experience tells me that is not the case.

In December 2019 the World Economic Forum stated that it would take 257 years before men and women reach pay equality. In addition, there was only a 2% increase in the number of women in senior roles compared to the previous year. It is true that in the field of trademarks, there are many women in management positions. However, there appears to be a stark difference between in-house settings and law firms. In many countries, female partners are still a rarity. Further, exclusion is not limited to barred access to higher positions, but also prevalent in day-to-day work.

I have personally received compliments for my skills as a good host while giving out snacks, with comments including: “I knew Latin women were good at this.” When my statements are too direct, I am asked to reign in my “female Latin temper”. When showing disagreement, I am told not to be emotional about business matters. And my private life and the existence of children seems to be a regular topic of interest. Similarly, many of my female mentees still talk about workplaces where disrespectful and dismissive male behaviour is translated into men having a decisive and direct leadership style, whereas the same behaviour among women is dismissed as being oversensitive, too emotional or unprofessional. Still, I have asked myself: could I be wrong? Could this just be a coincidence?

I decided to reach out to female IP professionals via a short survey to get a sense of the importance of gender equality today. The respondents covered different ages, ethnicities, geographical locations, socio-economic status, roles in companies or law firms, and ages, among other things.

The questions were:

  • Do you believe gender equality has been reached within the IP sector?
  • Do you feel comfortable speaking about gender equality at your workplace?
  • Do you think it is still necessary to speak about/fight for gender equality?
  • Do you believe taking action in favour of reaching gender equality is easy? If your answer is no, please specify why.
  • If there is one thing you could change with respect to achieving gender equality, what would it be?

In total, 99 female IP professionals responded to the survey. While not a statistically representative number, the responses certainly provide a basis for discussion:

  • 42% of respondents believe gender equality has been reached in the IP sector.
  • 82% feel comfortable speaking about gender equality at their workplace.
  • 97% think it is still necessary to speak about/fight for gender equality.

However, the figure that most caught my attention related to the last question: 75% of survey participants believe that it is difficult to take action in favour of reaching gender equality. Most respondents argue that equal treatment for all is not considered relevant by many, be it for cultural, religious or simply structural reasons.

Despite many moments of exclusion, I feel that diversity is more advanced in intellectual property compared to other industries. Nevertheless, the responses and discussions around the topic confirm that there is still a lot of work to do.

The advantages of diversity are evident, as countless scientific articles and analyses have demonstrated that diverse teams deliver better results. However, simply hiring or setting up diverse teams is only a start; you still need to ensure that each team member experiences an inclusive environment. Here comes the challenge. Inclusion can be mandated from the top, but changes in behaviour will not simply happen because it is commanded. If top managers openly pursue inclusion, this can have a positive impact on the entire organisation.

Finally, inclusion is a personal matter and depends on each and every one of us acting inclusively and speaking up when witnessing non-inclusive behaviour. Many of you may be thinking: “I always act inclusively! That goes without saying!” I would challenge that assumption. We all have biases and often enough we are not aware of them. I encourage you to take the Implicit Association Test to learn about your unconscious biases.

Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of being surrounded by men and women who have supported my willingness to develop. I work at a company that takes diversity very seriously and that strives to achieve a true speak-up culture. To achieve further progress, women need to develop joint actions and a vehement discourse that allows them to counter discriminative behaviours; in this context, fighting discrimination in the workplace goes hand in hand with the universal and perpetual fight against any type of oppression.   

Let us ensure that future generations feel comfortable speaking about all types of differences in the workplace and that they can bring their true selves without fear.

In the upcoming edition of WTR we will present a range of perspectives from corporate and law firm leaders on issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.

Myrtha Hurtado Rivas

Author | Head of Global Trademarks and Domain Names, Novartis International AG,

Myrtha Hurtado Rivas