A hot topic in the media recently has been the lack of gender diversity in technological career fields. Even NYU Law has partaken in the discussion by holding a panel that discussed the lack of gender diversity in Intellectual Property. The ratio of men to women in IP has been so low that IP boutiques are described as the among the worst firms for women. The field of IP faces the issue of gender diversity in both STEM industries and the legal profession. The reasons women do not enter these fields vary from stereotypes regarding what careers are suitable for each gender to a fear of not fitting into a male-dominated industry. The question then becomes what can IP boutiques do to increase the number of women hired at their firms?
The lack of gender diversity in technology companies has been addressed by several larger companies such as Google, Facebook, and Pinterest. Pinterest, for example, announced a new diversity initiative earlier this summer that involves targeting a wider range of universities for job recruitment and creating early internship programs for freshman and sophomore students. While this plan will increase the amount of women that are recruited and therefore, hired, it still does not reach the heart of the issue: having women enter the profession. The internship opportunity will only be taken advantage of by freshman and sophomores who have entered their universities with a focus on technology fields. What happens to all the women who have turned away from the field because of societal stereotypes about technology fields being a man’s world?
Recruitment initiatives are most successful when there is a substantial amount of women to be recruited and not just a small group of women targeted for recruitment. Initiatives need to target younger women to educate them about STEM fields and to encourage them to enter these fields. By exposing younger women early on to STEM fields, they are disillusioned about the stereotypes surrounding the STEM industries and can begin seeing themselves fitting into these career roles.
For law firms to overcome the dual-barrier of gender diversity, it may be worthwhile to begin targeting younger students entering college because they are still exploring career options. By targeting these students, law firms can increase the number of candidates who will consider entering the legal and technology sectors. Law firms can implement mentoring programs or informational panels and networking opportunities for younger students entering college. This kind of a program can be influential in recruiting young women to the law, recruiting young women to STEM academics, or both. Exposing younger students to these potential career pathways and connecting them to women practitioners that have overcome stereotypes and made their place in the IP world can disillusion young girls from thinking they do not belong in these fields, or that these fields are mainly for men. Networking with actual practicing women and listening to their narratives will allow younger women to begin envisioning themselves in these fields and building relationships of support and encouragement. More importantly, seeing real women succeeding in these fields provides younger women with role models—tangible beings they can emulate and be in contact with to help shape their own careers. Earlier interventions can create a feeling of solidarity between peers aspiring to join these careers and they then can change the stereotypes and support each other in achieving these goals.
These programs can be implemented fairly quickly across a broad range of universities and college as to target a majority of women in college. Given how many firms now have diversity committees, these programs can be planned out and funded through these committees with cooperating schools. Ideally, these kinds of programs will be able to serve as a pipelines to larger candidate pools of women for recruitment for law schools, and later, IP firms.
A lack of women in IP firms is due to a lack of women entering STEM fields. While current diversity initiatives are broadening their search, they are limited to the few women that have elected to pursue these fields. The solution to this issue is to encourage younger women to enter the field by changing stereotypes surrounding STEM fields and showing them there is enough room in the fields for them to fit in and have a successful career. A plausible way to do that is by providing these women with actual role models who have created a space in the IP field for themselves and who have been successful.
Nadia Chowdhury is a J.D. candidate, 2017, at NYU School of Law.