DEI survey data: an IP industry overview

The results of a new WTR survey suggest that DEI in the IP industry is improving but there is still much work to be done

WTR surveyed over 100 IP professionals from a range of organisations worldwide to gain in-depth insight into the state of DEI in the sector. Crucially, we wanted to know how diverse talent is supported on a business and industry-wide level. Here, we present some of the key results.

Confidence in senior management is lower among corporates

Most respondents (79%) report that DEI is a stated value or priority at their company or firm. Positively, 80% also believe that their senior management team or managing partner is committed to DEI.

Confidence is lower among corporate respondents, though. Only 45% believe that their senior management team is significantly committed to DEI (compared to 62% of law firm/service provider respondents). Meanwhile, 16% fear that senior management is not committed at all.

Figure 1: Do you believe that your senior management team/managing partner is committed to DEI?

A quarter of law firms consider DEI when outsourcing work

Three out of four organisations (77%) have a DEI policy in place. Meanwhile, roughly half support their employees through:

  • affinity networks and resource groups (47%);
  • mentoring programmes (46%);
  • an established DEI committee (45%); or
  • diversity training for all staff (44%).

Over a quarter (27%) of organisations also have a full or part-time dedicated DEI professional to oversee DEI initiatives – although this figure is higher for corporates (37%) than for law firms (22%).

Moreover, corporates are almost twice as likely to offer diversity training and to have affinity networks and resource groups than law firms. Interestingly, however, law firms and IP service providers are more likely to consider DEI when outsourcing work. Over a quarter (28%) of firms will have DEI in mind when they outsource, compared to only 15% of corporates.

One in four law firm/service provider respondents also states that their organisation supports DEI in other ways. Additional actions include:

  • supporting DEI charities;
  • engaging in social action and community service activities;
  • conducting workshops and webinars;
  • offering flexible working arrangements; and
  • establishing a recruitment programme for Black and minority ethnic students.

Figure 2: Does your company/firm offer any kind of mental health support?

Figure 3: What DEI initiatives does your organisation offer?

A third of law firms offer no mental health support

Improving DEI also means supporting employees’ mental health. A shocking 30% of respondents reveal that their employer provides no mental health support. This is a particularly prominent issue among law firms. One-third (33%) of private practitioners admit that their firm offers no mental health support at all.

Thankfully, a handful of respondents report that their organisations employ mental health first-aiders, with others affirming that their company’s healthcare plan covers mental health support. Some participants reveal that their employers even go so far as to offer paid counselling programmes or employ internal psychologists.

Admittedly, only some organisations can afford to hire internal or externally trained mental health professionals. Less expensive support strategies cited include the promotion of mental health wellbeing apps and other educational resources.

Policies that encourage employees to take time off when needed are also applauded. However, IP Inclusive’s 2022 Mental Health Awareness Week survey found that most UK IP attorneys (57.4%), and paralegals and business support staff (51.8%) consider having too much work the biggest barrier to taking time off for mental health reasons. Meanwhile, 41.6% of IP attorneys will refuse to take time off for fear of letting clients down.

In discussing this issue, one WTR respondent praises their organisation’s workplace flexibility, which includes an allowance for personal days. Another states that their organisation offers a temporary working arrangement system for lawyers. “In addition to our baseline parental-leave system, we also offer this system for lawyers who need to reduce their workload for personal reasons, along with a special work/compensation arrangement that allows them to remain on a partnership track, despite reduced work schedules, if they otherwise meet the requirements,” they explain.

Demographics and methodology

WTR surveyed 112 IP professionals about the state of DEI in the industry between September and November 2022. The majority (60%) of respondents were based at law firms, while 29% were based at corporates and 11% at IP service providers and other types of organisations. Representation was primarily split between relatively small and extremely large organisations (48% were small businesses with fewer than 250 employees, while 14% were businesses with between 1,000 and 4,999 employees and 20% were businesses with over 5,000 employees). Almost half (45%) of respondents were based in Europe, while 28% resided in North America, 12% in Latin America, 10% in Asia-Pacific, 4% in Africa and the Middle East and 2% in Oceania. While 36% of respondents identified as part of a minority at their company or firm, most (57%) did not, and 6% did not know.

DEI is improving, but more needs to be done

Thanks to these and similar initiatives, almost two-thirds of respondents (64%) feel that the environment for diverse employees at their workplace is improving. Many also believe that their employer is doing enough to support DEI in the workplace and wider community (47% and 35% of respondents, respectively).

Figure 4: How is the environment for diverse employees at your workplace changing?

But there is undoubtedly more to be done. A similar proportion of those surveyed insists that their organisation could be doing more (39% in the workplace and 36% in the wider community). Worryingly, almost one in five respondents (18%) state outright that their law firm or company is not doing enough. “They genuinely believe they are being inclusive, but [they] don’t understand what inclusion means,” one respondent states. “As a woman I am invited into management discussions, but not with the same right of voice,” they elaborate.

In terms of next steps, respondents suggest:

  • tying DEI goals to partner bonuses;
  • increasing mentoring opportunities for external candidates and diverse employees;
  • recruiting non-graduate hires; and
  • focusing on external markets and client DEI.

Figure 5: Is your firm doing enough to support DEI in the workplace and wider community?

However, the most popular suggestion by far is to increase training – in particular, mandatory training on implicit bias. “Training line managers to be inclusive leaders”, “training for senior management on implicit bias”, “mandatory bias training” and “consistent training and education for all employees” are all proposed schemes that respondents would like to see introduced at their organisation.

Raising awareness of DEI issues through training would also help employees to spread the word in the wider community. While this might prove difficult or even impossible to measure, such initiatives would likely garner support among the worrying 11% of respondents who do not know whether their organisation is doing anything to support DEI beyond its walls.

“Actions, not words”

The overall message from our survey is clear: DEI is about “actions, not words”, multiple respondents state. Policies are great, but organisations must back these up with concrete action and an inclusive culture that is promoted throughout every level of the business.

This is no easy feat. The size, scope and location of an organisation, not to mention each of its functions, must be considered. One respondent calls for “a more nuanced approach” to DEI, which “better reflects the demographics within individual functions/offices – rather than a company-wide one-size-fits-all approach to identifying inclusivity/inequality issues – and takes account of smaller, less obvious minority groups”.

DEI is a moving target, and our data suggests that there is still a long way to go. But with flexible policies and increased training, the IP industry can continue on its overall path of improvement.

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