How did you become a patent attorney?
By the end of my PhD, I had realised that a career in academia was not for me; I felt that any further work in academia would have too narrow a focus. I wanted a job which utilised all the skills I had built up from my research – not only my analytical skills, but the softer skills such as presenting information. Two of the people I knew from my PhD research had gone on to work as patent attorneys, and from speaking with them, it became clear that a career as a patent attorney would be a good fit. All three of us still work at Dehns!
Have you faced any barriers, as a woman, in becoming successful in your field?
If there have been any external barriers, I have not been aware of them. I have never felt less valued than any of my male colleagues. I took a year’s maternity leave, and prior to that, I had concerns that it could impact on my career. I am happy to say that has not been the case. The main barrier I have faced is my lack of self-belief; I am my own worst critic! Whilst I would not say that such issues have arisen only because I am a woman, or that such issues exclusively face women, I think it would be fair to say that I hear of similar problems more frequently from female colleagues than from male colleagues. I also suffer from “mum guilt” – balancing the drive to succeed in my career with the worry that it makes me a less good mum is something I struggle with.
How can the industry kick-start change for women in engineering?
The STEM industry has been traditionally male-dominated for many years, and when I was at school I certainly felt that there was a barrier to STEM careers for me as a woman. I remember the head teacher in my all-girls high school asking us all in an assembly what everyone’s least favourite subject was, the one they found the most difficult. “It’s physics, isn’t it!” she said, almost gleefully. It was notable that there were far fewer women than men in the lectures I attended for my physics degree. The tide seems to be shifting; more women are achieving STEM qualifications at school and university. This needs to translate into more women taking up careers in STEM. This should be encouraged wherever possible, with outreach activities and by raising the profile of women in STEM careers by giving them leadership roles where they can shine.
Why is an inclusive and diverse workforce important?
Ethically, we should all be doing our best to promote an inclusive and diverse workforce; it is simply the right thing to so. From a pragmatic viewpoint, an inclusive and diverse workforce is hugely beneficial to the business. Different people bring different things to the table; we all have differing strengths and weaknesses. By working together as a diverse workforce, we can emphasise the strengths and compensate for the weaknesses. A one-size-fits-all approach is never going to work for all of our clients; we need to be flexible, creative and responsive to their needs. When faced with a problem, each person approaches it from different angles and sees different solutions; when we can harness all of those diverse ideas, we can find the best outcome for our clients.
What advice would you give aspiring women in engineering?
A little bit of self-belief goes a long way! Find your strengths and have confidence in yourself. Don’t be afraid to put yourself forward and take on new responsibilities.