The Value of Diverse Voices in IP
In January 2022, three of us diverse IP partners at Gowling WLG, Shahrzad Esmaili, Natalie Rizkalla-Kamel, and Selena Kim, launched a newsletter on LinkedIn called “Taking Up Space”. We write about our careers, how we got to where we are, personal successes, setbacks, advice to our younger audience about “making it”, and what life is generally like while balancing careers in IP in a large firm while parenting young kids.
Why is such a newsletter useful to the profession? Too often, even today, many diverse women have a default sense of just being grateful to be included in our firms and in the profession, and that we don’t want to mess with a good thing by speaking up or taking up space. We also realized that over the years, we had unintentionally tried to fit in by not sharing aspects of ourselves that made us different. Our thinking on this has changed, and this led to our newsletter.
While the three of us are all moms with seven kids between us, we have quite distinct specialties and interests within IP. Shahrzad is an electrical and computer engineer as well as a patent agent focusing on patent drafting, prosecution, and portfolio strategy for computer software and emerging technologies such AI and fintech. Natalie is a Professional Engineer in civil engineering but, as she described in her newsletter articles, she took another path to a satisfying career in IP, focusing on IP enforcement, global trademark portfolio strategy, trademark prosecution and transactional IP. Selena’s background was life sciences, and she has developed a practice combining IP enforcement, patent strategy, and prosecution, with a specialty in biotech and chemical formulations. We thought with the variety in our backgrounds and interests, we could offer some unique commentary and stories.
With some initial hesitation, we launched our newsletter in January. All of us can now confirm that this is one of the most gratifying things we have done in our IP careers. We would not have expected there to be such value and appreciation expressed for the stories and perspectives we share. The field of IP law tends to be more reserved, and as a result, there is not a lot of real disclosure on what it is really like to practice in IP and how one can have a full life outside of practice.
We now know there is value in hearing more stories of how the careers of all types of people have evolved, and what they have encountered along the way. We have received many, many notes of appreciation for our newsletter from not only women who can relate to our perspectives, but also from many men in the field who are curious and have never heard such stories (like Selena’s description of breastmilk pumping while conducting a patent trial!).
There remains a lack of diversity in law in general, and IP is no exception. The numbers of diverse women partners comes nowhere near to matching the demographics of the general population. While student and junior associate ranks have been more diverse since the 1990s, with 50% of law school graduates being women, the numbers continue to be low as we approach more senior levels within the practice. It begs the question of whether there is something different about diverse women or what they encounter as they pursue their careers.
We decided that part of the solution and discussion can and should involve women in law sharing more about themselves, giving advance notice of upcoming career lows that are common, encouraging women to celebrate and promote career highs, and explaining why intentional development and management of your career is a big part of how you can survive and have a fulfilling career in IP for the long term. This was the point of us starting the newsletter. It is not always comfortable for us to share personal details, but we think it’s important.
We were also appreciative and thrilled to be asked by IPIC to share more on our newsletter in time for International Women’s Day. We sincerely thank IPIC for giving us this platform. We hope that the IP profession will continue to become more diverse and inclusive with the help of IPIC’s initiatives, such as IPIC’s WING (Women in IP Networking Group), of which we have all been long-time and enthusiastic members and supporters.
We are so grateful for the response to our newsletter, and look forward to sharing more. We encourage all IP practitioners to subscribe at https://www.linkedin.com/newsletters/taking-up-space-6886469987788177408/. Thank you for inviting us into your spaces.