International Women's Day Spotlight - IPIC 2021 Outstanding Contribution Award Winner - Jenna Wilson
Marked annually on March 8th International Women's Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Participation is witnessed worldwide as groups come together to celebrate women's achievements and rally for women's equality. This year's campaign theme is 'Embrace Equity' because true inclusion and belonging require equitable action, and because when we embrace equity, we embrace diversity and inclusion. In celebration of this day IPIC will highlight prominent women members who are just some of the many incredible women within the IP profession.
Jenna Wilson, Partner, Wilson Lue LLP, 2021 Outstanding Contribution Award Winner
Jenna has more than 20 years of experience in intellectual property law with a focus on patent drafting and prosecution. Her patent prosecution work emphasizes emerging technologies and subject areas that challenge the boundaries of current patent law, such as biotechnology and information technology. As a registered patent agent, she has drafted patent applications and procured patent rights for clients across a wide range of fields ranging from medicine to oil & gas to financial technology.
Why is equity, diversity, and inclusion important to the IP profession?
The work we do is highly business and technology-oriented, but clients (and our colleagues!) are people, too. As professionals, we have an obligation to provide objective advice. Unconscious bias, misperceptions, and non-inclusiveness can taint that advice.
Additionally, successful client relationships depend on emotional intelligence, which includes empathy and tolerance. Recognizing and practising EDI naturally foster these skills.
Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of?
I am proud of my children, who are all growing into open-minded and variously creative, studious, and enterprising (young) adults, albeit with zero interest in intellectual property law.
On a professional note, I am proud of the work I have done with IPIC’s Patent Committee in advocating for the profession and for our clients before CIPO and ISED.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “#EmbraceEquity”. What actions do you believe need to be taken in the IP profession to Embrace Equity?
Inequity is not solved by simply giving everybody access to the same set of EDI-promoting tools and services. That may be treating everybody the same way, but it is not true equity. Embracing equity means giving everybody the means they need to achieve the same outcome.
But determining what actions should be taken depends on the specific environment. There is no one set of prescribed measures that will fit everybody. For example, larger firms might consider restructuring of teams and groups to ensure that all members feel comfortable participating in conversations, but smaller firms may not be able to do this.
Whatever actions those are, it’s up to the organization’s management to take the initiative and be open to change.
What do you believe are the best ways individuals can Embrace Equity to collectively impact positive change?
I think it’s difficult for individuals to understand what we can each actually do. Adjurations to “foster inclusion” or “promote a culture of inclusivity” or “challenge assumptions” are convenient, but aren’t very helpful in defining positive actions that we can take in our everyday lives.
On an individual basis, I try to approach every interaction with others as a learning opportunity, and listen with the intention of hearing something new. And I try to remember that everybody else is just as “right” as I think I am—which is difficult, sometimes! When I do this, I always learn something—about another person, culture, or viewpoint, and sometimes I even come to recognize my own biases and assumptions, and what I can do or say differently to promote equitable treatment in some fashion.
Speak up against unfairness, prejudice, and disrespect when you see it. But don’t just assume the role of champion or mouthpiece for another individual without their permission. Rather, if you are able, help them make their own voice heard. Perhaps that means shushing everybody else in the room, as well as yourself.
What advice do you have for aspiring women IP professionals?
There are different paths to success, and different definitions of success.
For example, at the time I entered the legal profession, it seemed that there was a one-size-fits-all approach to forging client relationships and networking at Bay Street and Bay Street-adjacent firms—and I didn’t like playing golf. Conventional marketing activities, like conferences, sports events, speaking engagements, and being “proactive” may not work for the introverted, timid, or neurodivergent.
I was fortunate that I was given time and space to find my own way, my own niche in IP practice; I just wish I had found it earlier. Looking back, I realize it took me too long to recognize that what worked for other lawyers did not work for me and to become confident in my own abilities.
If you can, find a mentor at a different firm with whom you can talk through your concerns and fears, and help you recognize what works for you.
It’s important to recognize that there is no one formula for success in this or any other profession. Talk to other IP professionals—certainly women, but not just women—to learn about what achievements matter to them, and how they got to where they are now. Everybody likes to share their origin story.
What will be the biggest challenge for the next generation of women leaders in the IP profession?
Closing the gender gap at all stages of the pathway from schooling to management.
Our source for IP professionals, particularly in the patent field, is STEM graduates. In 2021, Statistics Canada researchers found that there was still a notable gender gap in enrollment in STEM university programs, particularly in math-intensive disciplines. In that year, WIPO also estimated that gender parity in inventors of PCT applications would only be reached by 2058.
While the legal profession, generally, boasts better representation numbers, there is still a gender gap in compensation. Last year, The Counsel Network and CCCA found that women continue to be paid less than male counterparts in in-house counsel positions. The same is reported to be true in private practice, as well.
Of course, closing the gap calls for more women leaders in a position to make changes.