Last week the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) held the first of five discussions that will take place every Wednesday in March during its Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium series. While participants discussed the challenges they’ve faced as women in leadership, they also noted that the USPTO has been ahead of the curve when it comes to promoting women into executive positions and shared tips to help more women rise to the top.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s worth noting some recent statistics. The International Trademark Association (INTA) recently published a report which found in part that “while research shows that diversity and the representation of women in IP is higher than in other law firm practice areas…gender parity will not be attained for 99.5 years.” The report also found that many women have to leave organizations to start their own firms in order to attain a leadership position, particularly in Latin America and North America.
At the USPTO, however, things are a bit better. Coke Morgan Stewart, who is Senior Counsel to the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO and currently performing the duties and functions of the USPTO Deputy Director, said during last week’s Symposium that the USPTO has made “great progress” supporting women in STEM as an employer. While women in the United States overall hold about 25% of STEM jobs, “women here at the USPTO hold about 32% of those jobs,” Stewart said. And while, nationally, only about 25% of women are senior executives at corporations and about 20% of women are partners in law firms, “women at the USPTO are 34% of our senior executives and women hold many of our most senior executive positions at the agency.”
Stewart also cited statistics that show “more women are entering the patent system than ever before,” and noted that patents with at least one woman inventor accounted for about 20% of the patents about five years ago, a figure that’s up to closer to 22% today. And the number of women among all U.S. inventor patentees grew from about 12% five years ago to close to 13% today. “I know the numbers don’t sound high, but when you consider the hundreds and thousands of patent applications filed each year, even small shifts in these numbers represent the work of thousands of new female inventors, so it is very exciting,” added Stewart.
Stewart then interviewed Wynn Coggins, who served as the Acting Secretary of Commerce until she swore in Gina Raimondo this month, and who is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration at the Commerce Department. Coggins, who co-founded the USPTO’s Network of Executive Women, said that one of the tips she’s found instrumental in her career is to seek out mentors she didn’t always get along or agree with. “The one thing that really shaped me as a leader is just gravitating toward people and pushing myself out of that comfort zone to find folks that are different than I am,” Coggins said. “It’s diversity I think that has really helped me.” Coggins added that this improved her self-awareness, which is “the number one quality that most leaders have and also the number one quality lacking in leaders that haven’t been successful.”
Later in the program, Holly Fechner of Covington & Burling told USPTO Deputy Commissioner for Patents Valencia Martin Wallace that creating a more diverse IP community is “a moral imperative.”
We’ve been striving to perfect our union for over 200 years. We still have a long way to go, particularly the events of the last year have shown us some cracks in how we include people based on race, gender, other factors. But in addition, there’s no doubt we would all benefit in so many other ways by doing this too. If we did include all women, people of color, and lower income individuals who want to invent and patent in the innovation ecosystem, we would have four times as many inventors and up to $1 trillion more in our GDP. As we think about the future both of individuals, our families and our nation, it’s just a no-brainer.
Dara Kendall of Procter & Gamble added that diversity makes good business sense and “as a corporate attorney I see what happens when our workforce does not mimic our consumer base.” One example she provided is in the realm of black hair care. Having people on the R&D team that understand the practical issues just makes sense, she explained. Kendall also said that one of the biggest challenges women face in succeeding in business is that they struggle with not being a natural part of the boys club. “That’s where a lot of the magic happens on a daily basis,” she said. “Those nuggets are being passed around in those circles. We have to be a bit more proactive.”
The next USPTO Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium virtual event will take place this Wednesday and will focus on “Pathways to invention, entrepreneurship, and STEM careers for K-12 and beyond.”