Where are the women? Supreme Court hosts London launch of ChIPs with call to action to advance women in tech, law and policy

The AmeriKat supporting one of her
fellow women patent litigators
For those who know the AmeriKat, they know that one of her huge passions is championing and supporting women in patent law.  Having often been (and still being) one of the only women in meetings or in a court room, she has experienced the challenges that women can face in the profession.  Studies show that women get interrupted more (no matter how senior), passed over for promotions and raises (even though entitled) and reviewed negatively for similar traits celebrated and promoted in men (bossy v leadership, arrogant v confident, etc).  Sadly, both men and women partake in these biases and discriminatory conduct, while others pretend that no such discrimination exists.  On a day-to-day basis this can be incredibly wearing on women in all professions, including those who ultimately pursue law, science and policy where the numbers of women are very low.  The disheartening statistics of girls and women studying sciences past GCSEs (about 20% in engineering, technology and computer science) is mirrored by the numbers of women in these professions  - STEM industries (21%), government (29% elected MPs), judiciary (28%) and law firm partnership (24% - equity and non-equity).  Some US surveys indicate that only 25% of IP lawyers are women.  What makes this all the more surprising is that organizations with increased diversity and female leadership perform better.  It makes business sense for companies and countries to create environments where women can succeed.  

But change is slow and, in some instances, seems to have gone backwards.  At the time of the event, the announcement of another disappointing round of partnership promotions bypassing talented women had yet to be reported.  Nevertheless, with the debate about the future of innovation in the UK post-Brexit, the time was right for the sold out London launch of ChIPs.  Founded in the US in 2005, ChIPs is a nonpartisan, non-profit organization focused on advancing and connecting women in technology, law, and policy. With over 1,500 members, ChIPs seeks to accelerate innovation in the confluence of these areas by increasing diversity of thought, participation, and engagement. ChIPS embraces and celebrates differences, with membership open to anyone who shares the ChIPs mission.  Members include general counsels, private practitioners, judges, government officials, academics, students, board directors, innovators, investors, corporate executives and entrepreneurs.  ChIPs Hall of Famers have included US Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg (2015) and former US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith (2016) recognized for their outstanding contributions.

With a long waitlist for the event, the AmeriKat is conscious that not everyone was able to attend.  Therefore, talented patent litigator Amy Crouch (Simmons & Simmons) was on hand to summarize the evening's events:  
An all women Supreme Court bench - a view ChIPs will be working towards replicating in practice
"On a cloudy evening at the end of April, the Supreme Court was brightened by almost 100 men and women streaming into Court Room 1. The event featured lively debate from a power house panel of female leaders in their fields to a packed court-room. The panel was chaired by Noreen Krall (far left: ChIPs Co-founder and Vice President, Chief Litigation Counsel, Apple Inc) who expertly managed the panellists (from left to right) Charlotte May QC (Barrister, 8 New Square), Professor Jackie Hunter CBE (CEO of BenevolentAI Bio Ltd and former head of BBSRC),  Baroness Sharon Bowles (Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted at UK House of Lords), Dr. Claire Craig CBE (Director of Science Policy at the Royal Society), Sally Field (Partner, Patent Litigation, Bristows LLP) and Ros Lynch (Copyright and IP Enforcement Director, IPO).
All proceeds from the event were donated to Code First: Girlsa non-profit organization devoted to helping women and girls in the UK to develop coding skills.

The evening was introduced by the London ChIPs committee co-chair and IPKat’s own Annsley Ward, setting the scene with the statistics mentioned above.  She noted that the issues that are preventing and deterring our girls and women from participating in these fields must be addressed to ensure continued competitiveness and innovation. The launch of the London ChIPs Chapter represents an important step in helping to realise the full involvement and potential of women in technology, law and policy world-wide. Through support, education, training and outreach, the ChIPs community of highly successful, talented and motivated professionals encourage one another to enhance each other’s ability to achieve valuable scientific, legal and business contributions.  Annsley also explained that the participation of men and women will help to support and inspire the women working in STEM, policy and law in the UK.  She acknowledged some of the men in the room who helped and supported her through her career.  
Lord Justices Floyd and Kitchin, Mr Justice Birss, Amali
and Sam listen to the view of industry from
Noreen Krall (Apple)
Noreen then introduced the ChIPs Network, which from its founding in 2005 has progressed from an informal discussion group to an organisation that advances women in technology, law and policy by:  (i) holding events to build relationships, (ii) educating and bringing people together from diverse backgrounds, (iii) motivating and training and (iv) seeking to drive change in organisations.  Noreen indicated that the percentages of women in law in the US are similar to the UK, depressingly amounting to only 16% of equity partners in US law firms.  The stats simply have not improved over the years.  She then opened the panel by asking whether the lack of progress is being taken seriously at the highest level and whether quotas are needed.
Claire commented that the situation is not hopeless.  When considering women at the professional level, the figure has risen from a mere 3% in the 80’s to 20% today.  Whilst this is patchy for different subjects, this is a significant shift.

Sara Ashby (l-Redd) and Tom Mitcheson (3 New Square)
Lady Bowles noted that the quotas question is highly political.  There is now a lot of pressure on public companies, and their institutional shareholders, to improve the numbers of women at board level.  If this does not change then legislation is possible, although there is a reluctance to go down that path.   US research has shown that female CEOs make companies more profitable and there are clear disadvantages associated with lack of diversity: it affects the risk profile and should be recorded as a corporate risk.

Charlotte commented that quotas can turn people against the issues and there is a need for an open minded work place.  The contributions of men and women are equally valid and are complementary.  Mixed teams lead to better better outcomes and better profit margins.
Sally noted that clients are now asking for law firm stats on diversity.  Clients want more balance – less of the traditional law firm and more of the real world.  Firms are starting to take notice and are taking steps such as unconscious bias training. Noreen agreed, based on her insight from the client perspective.  She has seen women during the pitch, only for them never to be seen again once the work commences.  It is important that the legal teams reflect both the bench (33% of US appellate court judges are female) and the jury in the US. Clients need to be more direct and demand that women are actually on the teams doing their work or else they will not continue to receive instructions.

Ros outlined the efforts directed at getting more women into senior government roles.  Whilst the IPO board does have equal numbers of men and women, the steering board does not and there is still a long way to go.

View from Noreen over a crowded court room 
On the subject of mentoring, Jackie said that mentoring is important but sponsorship is more important – it is crucial for both men and women to advocate for women and put them forward for board/committee positions.   When asked, executives often tend to volunteer men for senior positions but if they are directly requested to suggest a woman then they will usually be able to come up with a name.  It is important to ask the right questions.  Claire noted there is also an important difference between role models and mentors:  mentoring can equally be provided by men.  Women can often receive more help and guidance in their careers from men; limiting mentoring of women by women simply narrows the field.

There was then a spirited discussion and alarming examples regarding perceptions and implicit biases, which are unfortunately still part of the modern work place.  The panel asked us all to commit to calling out this kind of behaviour.  Whilst this requires bravery, we must lead by example if things are to change. 
Mr Justice Birss with London ChIPsters!
During her time as an MEP, and particularly as chair of ECON, Lady Bowles led a campaign to investigate and improve the numbers of women in senior positions within central banks.  It transpired that not only were there fewer women, but the progression of women to senior positions was significantly slower.  This was a successful campaign – there have since been two senior women at the Bank of England.

Claire explained that there have also been initiatives in the science world aiming to make a difference.  An example is the Athena Swan Charter, which was established to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing women in science and technology.  This was a bold step - universities and institutions being financially rewarded for demonstrating progress – and this might be a way to get proper commitment to change.
Noreen brought the panel session to an end by asking what can be done to recognise organisations that are addressing the issue.  As things stand it is so difficult for clients to know if certain law firms are actually making progress – it is a real struggle to get this information out of them.  Could the best firms perhaps be given some kind of badge of recognition?

A question from Lord Justice Floyd sparked a discussion about work/life balance.  His view was that attitudes need to change and assumptions regarding 24/7 availability are not healthy for anyone, but can impact women more as they often are faced with more child and home care responsibility then men.  There are structural issues that need to change so that the balance is restored across the board, the effect of which will help support women in the profession.  The audience noted that many men would like to spend more time with their family and children, but they also face the overwhelming expectation that they be available 24/7.  The panel commented that work/life balance is also important because it helps people  - men and women - make balanced judgements at work.  They also mentioned that billable hours targets in law firms are one of the biggest barriers to women seeking partnership - efficiency is not rewarded  This means that firms are losing talent for the wrong reasons.  The panel ended with a discussion regarding the absence of of role models who establish different. more flexible, working practices.  

Amali and the Code:First team with ChIPsters
Amali de Alwis then gave us a brief introduction to Code First: Girls. Code First: Girls is a not for profit social enterprise, which has delivered £2.5 million worth of free education to young women across the UK since it’s inception in 2013. They have one purpose - to address the gender imbalance in the tech industry, where women currently only represent about 17% of the workforce.  Amali also introduced the 2020 program which aims to change society and the face of the UK economy by teaching 20,000 women how to code for free by the end of 2020. 
Finally, after enthusiastic thanks and gifts, the panellists and attendees enjoyed drinks , canapés and hours of lively discussion. "
Although we have a lot of work to do to get the numbers up, the panellists and audience were confident that much can be done to improve the environment to support women in these professions and, in turn, promote innovation for the benefit of all.

The ChIPs London Chapter is working on a series of exciting education, training and networking events over the next few of months.  They encourage everyone - men and women - to join to hear about upcoming events - click here.   If you are interested in getting more involved please contact Annsley and Sam Funnell.  Annsley and Sam would especially like to hear from you if you are in industry, government and research institutions (so please forward this on to your in-house research teams).  
Where are the women? Supreme Court hosts London launch of ChIPs with call to action to advance women in tech, law and policy Where are the women?  Supreme Court hosts London launch of ChIPs with call to action to advance women in tech, law and policy Reviewed by Annsley Merelle Ward on Monday, May 15, 2017 Rating: 5


  1. I had a dream.

    I had a dream in which gender did not even come up when discussions of merit arose.

    I had a dream.

    But it was only a dream.

  2. Delighted to see this article - thank you. I actually looked up all the top 10 (by size) UK law firms partnership promotions to see what proportion of them were women, and it was overall deeply depressing:

    DLA Piper 12/48
    Clifford Chance 4/24
    Allen & Overy 2/24
    Linklaters 5/26
    Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer 5/18
    Norton Rose Fulbright 18/45
    Hogan Lovells 8/29
    Herbert Smith Freehills 6/21
    CMS 8/44
    Ashurst 4/19

    If I had a more technical bias, I would join CHips like a shot. But much moral support from the trade mark sidelines!

  3. What proportion of women in the profession are from poor backgrounds? State schools? Non-Oxbridge? Let me know when these equality-promoting individuals begin to practice what they preach.

    Chips - 'Advancing like-minded women from the same backgrounds at the expense of all others, turning discrimination on its head'.

  4. Sorry but "Chips - 'Advancing like-minded women from the same backgrounds at the expense of all others, turning discrimination on its head'." only sounds like more discrimination itself.

    Discrimination in the name of correcting discrimination only breeds the e v i l underlying discrimination in the first place.

  5. I don't know what the situation is in general legal practice, but when I started to train as a patent attorney in 1989, about half the TA's attending the CIPA lectures in London were female, ditto the QMW course. I was then working in industry, but when I later moved to private practice, the firm I worked for had approx. equal gender distribution, although there was a regular loss of female staff who left, sometimes temporarily, when they started families.

    In the 1990's did note that there seemed to be a total lack of female patent attorneys listed in the letterheads of the US firms that we dealt with, and I did once observe to a US Patent Attorney that I spoke to regularly that I knew more Icelandic female patent attorneys that US ones ( 3 : 0 in favour of Iceland). On reflection he agreed, and said that the females seemed to have trouble with the mechanical drafting aspect of the US qualifying exams and tended to migrate to Trade Marks rather than Patents.

  6. I have seen some conferences on patent cases where there have been 10 female lawyers and no men. One may ask where are the men!"

  7. To Anonymous at 11:33: I imagine you will find them on the other 90% of panels....


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