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Anna Holmberg: we need to increase equality and diversity in IP

Anna Holmberg, manager of The Vera Project at the Center for Intellectual Property, spoke at this year’s Corporate IP Strategy Summit about tackling unconscious bias and giving women better opportunities in IP

“We live in a patriarchal structure. In most countries men control a majority of the resources, the power and do most of the decision making related to this,” said Anna Holmberg, manager of The Vera Project at the Center for Intellectual Property, a joint academic centre between the Swedish University of Gothenburg, Chalmers University of Technology and Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Speaking at Managing IP’s 2019 Corporate IP Strategy Summit in London last week, Holmberg made the point that despite the many efforts being made to embed diversity and inclusion into business mentalities, not enough is being done to open up opportunities to women and minorities.

She said that if improvements were to be made, businesses would have to start taking a different approach to promote gender equality and the shared control of resources and decision making power.

“Many in this room will say that, of course, men and women are equal and that they do their best to hire women because they see no difference between the two,” Holmberg said. “But [there is] evidence to the contrary – and that is likely the case because of unconscious bias.”

She added: “These are the unconscious attitudes we carry with us – not conscious prejudices but perceptions of what we and the people around us are like.

“This is a basic part of social behaviour where we share attitudes and expect certain behaviours and qualities from certain people.”

Holmberg noted that one study conducted at Sweden’s Luleå University of Technology showed that when investors were introduced to female and male entrepreneurs who exhibited similar traits, those traits were interpreted in very different ways.

While men were often characterised as assertive or careful, women were seen to be bossy or weak. The study concluded that similar behaviour is often perceived in a certain way when exerted by a particular group, and Holmberg pointed out that this is a perfect example of why a new approach is needed in many organisations.

She added that it is also not enough for business leaders to say that the matter will sort itself out in time.

“First, that is not true,” she said. “We have seen many fields and industries where it clearly does not matter how many female students or associates there are, because they still do not become partners or professors or the people with power.

“Second, I don't care if it will eventually sort itself out. My time, and the time of our young female students, is here and now.”

Holmberg ended her speech by saying she felt a strong sense of urgency to see a gender transformative approach happen across the world; and particularly in the IP industry, where the nature of its professionals should help drive such an approach. 

“You are in the profession of managing intellectual assets,” she said. “So, please do that and make sure the competence, knowledge and skills of female professionals do not go to waste.”

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