To celebrate International Women’s Day, we have invited some of our leading women practitioners across diverse backgrounds to share their thoughts on this year’s International Women’s Day’s theme – Generation Equality. Today, we hear from representatives Patents: Chemical & Life Science team – Principal, Dr. Elizabeth Barrett based in Sydney, Australia and Patent Scientist, Dr. Natsuho Yamamoto from our Singapore office.
How has your experience been starting in this profession?
Natsuho: Coming from a science research background, making a move into the patent attorney profession required a bit of courage, especially as I had been doing science research for almost 10 years up till then. It meant that I was going to leave everything I had known behind, to dive into something completely different. However, once I started in the profession, I have never looked back. I found the profession to be a good mix of science and law, where I can utilise my knowledge acquired during my science research days while learning about the new and interesting aspects of patent law. I also found working with clients enjoyable, as this was something that I rarely got to do while doing science research. I have really come to appreciate this profession, and am glad that I joined it when I did.
What was the industry like when you first started out?
Elizabeth: I was fortunate to have a strong female mentor in a leadership position when I first started out in the industry. From the perspective of gender, there have not been too many changes within the chemical and life sciences group between when I started and out and now. Although the number of females in the group has fluctuated over the years, there are a similar number of females now as there were when I started out. In our sector, the proportion of females in the group has increased and it is getting closer to having similar numbers of males and females, although the males still slightly outnumber the female professionals.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing professionals / young professionals in the industry today?
Elizabeth: One of the challenges is to be adaptable in a changing industry and adaptable to the changing expectations of people working within the industry.
Natsuho: I think one of the biggest challenges young female professionals may face today is the social stigma of being a female leader. I feel that there is still some prejudice against female leaders which I have seen being expressed by both male and female professionals alike. This, I think may subconsciously stop some young female professionals from wanting to achieve more. I firmly believe that female leaders can offer skills that are equivalent and complementary to our male counterparts, and for this, we should have confidence in our own value.
What advice would you give young professionals starting out in the industry today?
Elizabeth: As when starting in any new industry I think it is important to embrace the challenges that come with working in a new industry. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn from your colleagues – we all faced the same challenges coming from a scientific background and found ourselves going back to the beginning in a sense by working in a new industry. Take the time when you are first starting out in the industry to establish a firm foundation of knowledge of the law and practices as it becomes more difficult to take that time as the pressures and demands of the role increase.
What expectations do you have for the future regarding equality within the industry?
Elizabeth: Achieving equality in the industry is something that requires, amongst other things, having females in leadership and mentoring roles. It also requires a recognition of the need for a more flexible workplace to attract and retain quality females in the industry. This is something that may not change quickly and my expectation is that it may be some time before there is true equality within the industry.
Natsuho: Generally speaking, the patent profession still appears to be very much male-dominated, and I think it would be nice if we could see a larger proportion of females both in managerial roles as well as at the associate/trainee level. There are a lot of women in the profession who are extremely talented and capable, whom I very much look up to. It’s a shame that these women don’t seem to be receiving the recognition that they deserve. I would like the profession to eventually become a place where more of these female role models can lead the profession alongside our male counterparts. The fact that equality is a point of discussion is, I guess in itself a sign that equality is lacking, and it would be nice to ultimately see a time where no such discussions are needed.
What do you think is key to achieving a successful work-life balance?
Elizabeth: I am not sure that I have achieved the mythical work-life balance. This is something that is very dependent on the individual circumstances and needs of your family and demands of the job, which vary over time. I try to work as efficiently as possible while at work to allow me to also enjoy quality time with my family.
Natsuho: I think the key to successful work-life balance is to consciously make an effort to not let work govern your life. I feel like this is best done by intentionally setting aside time for yourself, away from work. Whether it be to make sure you don’t check your emails once you leave work, or to take a few days off to completely disconnect from work, I think there has to be decent amounts of time when you’re not thinking about work at all. I also think it’s valuable to have a passion outside of work – whether it be a hobby, exercising, volunteering, taking classes etc, to keep you engaged in your personal time. I find that having a passion outside of work helps to keep me grounded, and to remind me of what’s important in life.