The Rise of Women: A Step Towards Equality?

By Beth Brown, Marketing Executive

Recent years have seen a big push towards equality in the workplace. The concept is simple: with more visibility over who companies are hiring and how much these people are being paid, employers should be placed under greater pressure to support equality driven hiring and work practices.

Let’s take a step back. The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for a person to be treated less favourably due to a protected characteristic such as religion, race or sex. The Act continues the work of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which related only to discrimination on the grounds of sex and marital status. Then, in 2017, the Equality Act 2010 Regulations began requiring employers with 250 or more employers to publish a pay gap report – showing how large the pay gap is between their male and female employees – every year.

STEM roles and the legal profession are two areas which have historically been male dominated. Although there has been a push to increase the women in these areas, and inroads are being made, there is still a large imbalance. Looking at STEM graduates in the UK, there has been a steady increase in the number of female graduates from 2015 (22,020 graduates) to 2018 (24,000), however due to the increase in male graduates the percentage increase is minimal, from 25% to 26%. This small increase is also seen in the work place: National Statistics Labour Force Survey data, shows an increase of only 1% from 21% of women in STEM professions in the UK in 2016, to 22% in 2018.

In the legal profession, there has been an impressive change in the gender of law students. In 2017, the Law Society reported that 68.8% of students accepted onto law courses in the UK were female, and even looking further along the career path, 61.6% of persons admitted onto the roll of qualified solicitors in 2017 were female. Thus, while there is still a notable disparity seen in women holding senior positions in the legal profession, the work being done to increase gender equality in that field has had a substantial impact.

With this in mind, it is interesting to see how all of these pushes towards gender equality in the workplace, and these statistics of graduates in relevant fields, translate into figures of employees at the UK Intellectual Property Office and European Property Office.

Intellectual Property Office

Last year the Intellectual Property Office published its 2019 gender pay gap report. While the IPO report a workforce which is 46% female, showing a relatively equal gender split, they also reported a 21% mean pay gap in favour of men, and a higher figure of a 32% median pay gap in favour of men. When commenting on these figures, the IPO note that women make up only 24% of the UK core STEM workforce (according to The Office of National Statistic Labour Force Survey, compiled by the WISE Campaign (2019)). The IPO also note a couple of frequently mentioned reasons for the pay gap. Firstly, they note that there are more men employed at more senior positions and are as such on higher salaries. Indeed, only 28% of the IPO’s Senior Civil Service (the highest pay grade for the Civil Service) are women, which may be seen as a symptom of a society historically less concerned with equality and which cannot, regrettably, be fixed overnight. Secondly,  greater numbers of women work part-time: in fact 68% of their part time workers are women.

European Property Office

The European Property Office Social Report 2018 shows that 33.7% of staff working at the EPO at the end of 2018 were female.

The EPO pay grade bands run from G02 (lowest) to G17 (highest). In 2018 around 200 women were in pay band G13, compared to almost 1000 men. Significant differences between genders in each pay band were frequent. Of the lower pay bands, G02 – G07, there are more women assigned to this level than men. From G10 – G17, there are more men than women in each pay category. To consider the part-time workers reasoning used above, 74.1% of part-time workers are women, which is a very high percentage and so does account for some of this pay disparity. However this would be a counter argument when looking at the lower end of the pay grades, where women are more prevalent than men.

Another aspect is promotions, where women seeking a promotion every year at the EPO are lower as compared to men. In year 2015, about 30% of women were promoted, as compared to men.

The way forward

The IPO are taking steps to reduce their gender pay gap, they comment that “the IPO is committed to fair pay irrespective of gender”. Initiatives they plan to implement include:

  • Ensuring that women get the support and access to the learning initiatives that they need to be able to progress in their career.
  • Outreach work at various institutions to increase women in STEM roles.
  • Improvement of the recruitment process to ensure job adverts are targeting the right demographic.
  • Exploring ways to improve care arrangements and the process of women returning to work after maternity leave.

Overall to increase gender equality for women in IP, WIPO has implemented a 2014-2020 plan to recruit more women staff and create diversity. Similarly, the ‘Women in IP’ group by IP Inclusive as well as many similar groups around the world, run different awareness programs to promote gender equality in the IP domain. The USPTO has been reviewing diversity in inventorship.

While this forced spotlight, brought about through legislation and societal changes, has helped to increase women in the workplace in IP, clearly this has not been enough to create true equality. A number of factors, including maternity leave, will continue to influence statistics on women in the workplace, current statistics are not where we would want them to be and as such work must be continued to further this aim. As seen in the percentage of male to female law graduates and solicitors, a key step in work place gender equality begins in education, where an increase in graduates in typically male dominated fields has a knock on effect throughout those career paths year on year, thus meaning more women and young girls see women in those role, which further helps to encourage women into these areas.

In the future we hope to see the number of women in the IP profession, at the IPO, EPO, in house council and at attorney firms, increasing.