The Intellectual Property Owners Association says too few women seek patents, and it wants that to change. Its new Gender Diversity in Innovation Toolkit helps organizations get to the root causes of the disparities and implement programs to equalize innovation.
Despite women making up more than 53 percent of Ph.D. candidates, they make up only 12 percent of recognized inventors, according to the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO). The group hopes to change that by helping organizations overcome obstacles that prevent women from participating in innovation.
“It’s a significant problem,” said Sandra Nowak, assistant chief IP counsel for 3M and co-chair of the Women Inventors Subcommittee of the IPO Women in IP Committee. The subcommittee spearheaded the Gender Diversity in Innovation Toolkit, which offers a four-step approach to help organizations remove hurdles that keep women from becoming inventors.
“Part of it is categorizing young girls at an early age,” said Mercedes Meyer, Ph.D., a partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and a founding member of the subcommittee. “We are losing them in our pipeline.”
The toolkit recommends companies increase awareness of the problem, investigate the root causes of the problem at their organization, develop short- and long-term program goals, and launch and monitor programs to address the problem.
Increasing awareness of the disparity is important because some organizations are reluctant to admit there is a problem. “Many of the universities were scared to look at the statistics and thought it was going to reflect badly on them,” Meyer said. “We try to say, this is an implicit bias problem, and everyone has the problem, including the women. Let’s change how we act and change how we think about implicit bias.”
Implicit bias involves the attitudes, perceptions, and stereotypes that affect people unconsciously. Meyer and Nowak note that bias affects both women and men.
“Drawing on a specific example of the toolkit, one of the root causes is the confidence gap in women,” Nowak said, addressing reasons why fewer women apply for patents. “There is a need for perfection from women, or the idea from women that their idea is not big enough or important enough to be an invention.”
Sometimes when patent applications are filed on behalf of a team of inventors, women from the team are left out. When this happens, Nowak said women are less likely to “raise their hand and say, ‘I need to be included on the patent.’ They don’t push the issue the way men do.”
While the toolkit acknowledges that some disciplines might have fewer females entering the profession, organizations can do more to reduce barriers for the women who are there. “You can’t change pipeline issues overnight,” said Michelle Bugbee, senior intellectual property counsel at Eastman Chemical Company and co-chair of the subcommittee. “You can change that the women who are there aren’t submitting inventions. No matter how big or how small your organization is, you can make some changes.”
In the meantime, Meyer said this toolkit is also a living document. “We are bringing together tools that work for different industries, so people don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” she said. “This is going to be a document that grows over time, with people’s ideas being added. This is not the end of the story. This is the start of the story.”