What does a typical working day look like?
My role is the same as other partners in the firm insofar as I work with clients to assist them in protecting and utilizing their intellectual property to their commercial benefit. I am also actively involved in management of the firm. As the Senior Partner I have additional responsibilities on behalf of the partnership to ensure the smooth running of the firm and the development of future strategies in collaboration with other senior members of the firm.
Every day is different and quite often includes something unexpected. I have administration and management tasks to attend to which sometimes take only a small part of the day, but sometimes can eat into most of my day. However, the majority of my time is devoted to working on client cases. I work with applicants in the biotechnology area to protect their inventions and defend them when necessary. The starting point for this is converting inventors’ scientific/commercial ideas into a description (patent application) which can be submitted for examination to the granting authorities. We assist with the process all the way up to grant of the patent and beyond. The work is analytical in nature, of both a legal and scientific nature, and mostly carried out in writing. However, we regularly meet with our clients at various stages in the development of their patent portfolios and provide oral advocacy where necessary. A normal day would usually include a couple of client meetings, a few quick meetings with my colleagues and lots of written work in-between.
I use my STEM education almost every day. There may be days when my attention is drawn more to management matters, but coming back to my STEM roots is always my happy place.
What motivated you to pursue a career in STEM?
That’s very simple really. STEM subjects were my favourite at school and I never saw myself pursuing anything other than a STEM-related career. I will confess there is a lazy side to my choice as well. STEM subjects, at least at school, tended to focus less on essays. At that stage I was not a fan of essays. They required too much planning, were not ideal for procrastinators and there was never a right answer, just a good answer. That preference is somewhat ironic now given the type of role I have now which does require extensive written work and planning and there is often no right answer!
Did you have any mentors or role models that you looked up to in the STEM profession?
Not really. My mother was a teacher and my father was a car engineer. My wider family were not notably scientific in education or interest (though that has changed with my generation and beyond). However, my mother in particular taught me to be inquisitive and to explore. That is a wonderful starting point for any STEM profession.
Did you experience any barriers to entry into the STEM profession?
Objectively, probably not but then I was quite single-minded and prepared to jump through as many hoops as was necessary. Perhaps the trickier issue was once I was in my chosen profession. Self-doubt strikes us all at times and can curtail both ambition and achievement. Women, in particular, frequently lack objectivity in assessing their skills and tend to focus on what they cannot do rather than what they can do. Developing a sense of your own value and a willingness to try new things are key.
Now that you are in a STEM career, in hindsight, did you have any misconceptions about a STEM career or are you aware of other people misconceptions?
When I first started training I felt that I was leaving behind “pure” science and entering the legal profession. Whilst that is true to a great extent, the core of science that runs through my work on a daily basis has been one of the main reasons I continue to enjoy my role. I suppose I thought that if I wasn’t at the lab bench then perhaps it was not a “proper” STEM career. However, it is clear to me now that there are many ways to have a STEM career. Being comfortable with STEM concepts and language opens up rich seams of possible careers.
What have been your experiences of working in a STEM profession? Positive and negative:
I have been very fortunate to be in a STEM career that keeps up with new developments as we work with innovators because of the type of work we do. I still enjoy working within a scientific framework. I also greatly enjoy working with those with a scientific mindset. They tend to be thoughtful, open-minded and creative which makes for a group of very interesting (and often very funny) individuals!
I have no negatives to report. I would do it all again!
What were your first impressions of Dehns from a female diversity and equality perspective when you first joined?
I joined nearly 30 years ago so things have changed considerably. Not surprisingly female representation in more senior positions was much lower when I started than it is today. Indeed there were no female partners when I arrived at Dehns, whereas almost 40% of our partners are women. In terms of the equality of those that were present there were two main issues. The first was the general office environment and how women were treated in general terms. The second was how they were treated in their specific roles. The former was largely influenced by society at the time. Women were not treated equally at that time and naturally that extended into the workplace. Mostly, women were treated equally in their specific roles and progressed on a par with their male colleagues. However, there were (and continue to be) disparities in progression mostly centred around caring responsibilities, particularly parental responsibilities. Nevertheless, we are making good progress. Our firm has high representation of women in senior roles and continues to promote and encourage women to take such roles. Career breaks, flexible working options and other creative working practices allow our women to work around other responsibilities without jettisoning their careers.
Are you noticing more women in STEM in IP?
There has certainly been an increase in women in STEM in IP over the last 30 years. The ratios of women:men in the STEM positions in our firm are generally higher than the ratios in the corresponding STEM University courses so we are doing well to attract women to this industry and particularly to our firm. However, parity is unlikely until STEM courses similarly reach parity in their candidates.
The presence of more women at higher levels in STEM in IP is important. Their visibility normalises women in those roles and in the profession which will have a knock-on effect on new entrants to the profession.
What would your advice be to girls considering a STEM career?
Go for it! It will engage and challenge you continually and that’s a great basis for a career.
Do not assume that a woman in STEM has to look or behave in a certain way. Be yourself. Challenge yourself.