To celebrate women’s achievements leading up to International Women’s Day, FB Rice invited six female leaders across a variety of industries to discuss this year’s IWD theme, #EachforEqual.
I’m currently General Manager - Intellectual Property at Xero, a global software company. This means I head up the IP function at Xero. We’re part of the legal team, and collaborate with lots of different people across Xero where IP plays a part in the business.
I started my IP career in private practice, learning the core technical skills from some fantastic patent attorneys and lawyers. I spent six years in New Zealand and then four years in Australia. While in private practice, I was very fortunate to be seconded into a company on a part-time basis. This was my first taste in the in-house world, and I loved it! I loved spending quality time with inventors and decision-makers, forging solid collaborative relationships. In short, I was hooked! I left private practice in 2011 to take an in-house role in Singapore for a large multinational corporation and honed my skills as an in-house IP expert.
I am now happy to be home in New Zealand, closer to my extended family, and working for a fantastic global company on all things IP.
There is no doubt that gender equality remains an issue in the legal and patent attorney industries. I do not believe there is one simple fix to resolve these issues, but I do think it’s crucially important to keep talking about them. The first step in solving any entrenched issue is to acknowledge it, and we’re getting better at that.
There is always more we can do, of course. In addition to keeping conversations alive, I have found that it’s really important to build your support networks. I’m so grateful for the diverse group of professional friends I have made over the years that I can reach out to when I need a sounding board. I also think basic economics will help drive diverse workplaces - in many instances the newest generation of workers has the luxury to choose their employer, and if we all choose to work for companies that support diversity, then this will help drive the change that needs to happen. I believe this behaviour is starting to have some impact in the legal industry now.
Collective individualism is embedded in Xero’s Diversity & Inclusion policy, where one of our key principles is that we are all accountable to create an inclusive culture. We say in the principle that “we believe that none of us is as good as all of us” and this statement goes to the heart of collective individualism and really resonates with me.
Everyone’s efforts are important for gender equality, and we can all contribute to make a difference. If each of us makes a small change, such as working to counteract bias at an individual level, the amplified effect of that at a systems level is potentially huge.
I’m incredibly fortunate that my current workplace is committed to driving progress for gender equality. I work in a legal team led by Chaman Sidhu (Chief Legal Officer & Company Secretary), a talented woman who has worked incredibly hard to build a diverse team. We spend time celebrating all our team’s individual strengths and what they bring to us as a whole (collective individualism at play!), and we also work on topics like psychological safety and cultural awareness so that we can have authentic and productive discussions amongst us. As a team we champion innovation, connections, and collaboration - and as a result we build strong relationships within the business.
Panning out to see the bigger picture, gender diversity has always been a priority for Xero and something that is strongly supported and celebrated. This year we were included in the 2020 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index which tracks the financial performance of public companies committed to supporting gender equality through policy development, representation, and transparency. This is global recognition of Xero’s commitment to supporting diversity in the workplace, and put simply: a really fantastic acknowledgement of a great company making great strides in these important issues.
I think diversity across the board is important, and the best way to motivate others is to lead by example.
I am always keen to learn more about all topics that open my eyes to issues of diversity, and upskilling myself whenever I can. Recently I’ve been reading up on algorithmic injustice, it’s a relatively new topic for me and a steep learning curve. Another topic I’m keen to upskill on is being aware of my unconscious bias as best I can. We’re in the process of hiring new roles within the legal team as we grow, and that topic is especially relevant when you are hiring! Xero offers some great training on this topic. The way I motivate others is to talk about these topics while I learn, seeking input from colleagues as I learn. These discussions are never dull and I always learn more and more! At the same time I hope to motivate others to find the same passion for learning more on these topics too.
I think it’s also important to have a conversation about what we’re trying to achieve in addressing existing barriers.
Visual pieces like the cartoon below reinforce this message. Under a model of equality (shown on the left), there is an assumption that everyone benefits from the same support and therefore equal treatment is the best way forward. The middle image represents equity which shows that if you instead seek to give everyone the support they need, the support itself may be different for each person but this equitable treatment makes it possible for all to have equal access to the end goal (watching the game). In the right hand picture is the concept of justice, where the cause of the inequity (the barrier) is addressed and removed. Equity and ultimately justice are those we should aim for.