Women’s innovation has to be encouraged by all sectors of industry, not just IP, explains Christine Jennings, president of Anaqua Services (a provider of IP management solutions).
Did you face any challenges or barriers when you started your career?
I started in the industry in 1992 at a full IP service law firm. I had an interest in law, but not specifically IP and the role sounded interesting. At the time, IP was very much a male-dominated sector and there were relatively few women, particularly in senior positions.
Our firm’s entire senior management team were men, including in the head office in South Africa. Having said that, the managing partner was a great mentor and I have him to thank for encouraging me to progress in the industry.
What did you understand about IP before you joined the industry?
I knew very little about IP when I joined the industry, but it quickly caught my interest. The client portfolios were diverse and the IP law firm I joined focused on IP in Africa, which again was fascinating as the laws varied widely across territories.
How do you think women’s role in the IP industry has changed since then?
It has changed significantly over the years. I believe the contribution women make, and the value they bring to the IP industry is more widely recognised and acknowledged than in the past, in a lot of countries. I see many more women in key positions, which is encouraging, and many of my close female friends hold senior positions within their IP organisations.
However, a lot of the time women still have to work harder to prove themselves and to reach and maintain such positions. This needs to change so we are truly treated equally. Women in the IP industry are tremendously supportive of each other and I’m really proud of our constant determination, which we need, to succeed.
There are a number of ‘women in IP’ events now, which is positive recognition of the role of women in the industry but you could argue that the fact we need women-only dedicated events confirms we have a way to go from an equality perspective.
What more can the IP industry do to encourage the participation of women?
There are a number of forward-thinking companies and law firms, actively encouraging diversity at all levels. One global law firm, for example, is marketing its high percentage of women in senior roles as a competitive advantage, which is inspiring.
WIPO is also promoting the role of women in IP and tackling barriers to entry in the more traditional male-dominated geographies. While such developments are heartening, we need to see this positive progress taking place across all countries.
How can the industry support innovative and creative women in bringing their ideas to market?
This is a difficult issue to resolve as, at an education level, the stereotypes still exist in terms of careers chosen. It has to be tackled at schools, colleges and university to have a long-term impact. Progress is slow and the statistics show that less than 30% of inventors are women. Women’s innovation has to be encouraged by all sectors of industry, not just IP.
Who or what inspires you?
When I started out in IP, there were few women in senior IP positions, but I remember attending an ITMA conference where Katrina Burchell was presenting. At that time she was head of trademarks at Unilever. She really captivated the audience with her presenting skills and also her deep knowledge of IP. She was impressive and inspiring.
I am also inspired by the excellent teamwork and collaboration within my own organisation. I have a number of colleagues, both female and male, in senior management positions at Anaqua, and we all support and encourage each other. Their detailed understanding of the industry and dedication to the company and our customers is phenomenal.