The State of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Interview with Presidential Task Force Co-Chairs
Published: April 28, 2021
Each year, INTA’s Presidential Task Force closely examines an issue of concern to INTA and the trademark community. For 2021, INTA President Tiki Dare chose to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)—a topic increasingly on the minds and mouths of intellectual property (IP) practitioners and beyond around the world.
Co-Chairs Michael Hawkins, a partner in the IP practice group at Noerr, in Alicante, Spain, and Kim Reddick, senior counsel at Uber, in California, USA, and other diverse members of the 2021 Presidential Task Force on DEI are looking at the issue from multiple angles and contributing their own perspectives as they eye short-term and long-term solutions to address DEI.
In an interview with the INTA Bulletin, the co-chairs dive into what prompted the focus of this year’s Task Force and offer a preview of some action items that may result from its work, including helping to steer the conversation on DEI for the field.
Ms. Dare is extremely passionate about DEI. In addition to her being the champion of this initiative, what external factors have contributed to DEI being the topic of the Presidential Task Force? In other words, why now?
Kim Reddick (KR): The whole pandemic has been a catalyst for this topic, and there are things that happened that have sort of pushed it forward. Last year, we had the killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests. People were at home because of the pandemic, and so this huge thing that happened now had a captive audience. It gave people a chance to think about it and talk about it, and I think people around the world wanted to be allies for not only people who look like George Floyd, but everyone of diverse backgrounds. So, I feel that was a catalyst that caused individuals and corporations to want to do something.
I think, certainly, INTA’s membership is ready for it, wants it, is engaged in it, and is thinking about it right now.
Michael Hawkins (MH): Building on the pandemic point, some of the differences between people in the workforce have been heightened because of the pandemic. Anyone who’s working in the trademark field will have noticed that as well. It’s something that we must recognize and find a way to prevent it from causing lasting damage to the profession.
Secondly, the trend of brands for a better society has been going on for a number of years, and it’s something that the Association has been focusing on. Although brands for a better society was mainly focused on sustainability and climate issues, there was always an undercurrent of equity and diversity.
Brands became vocal more than ever before on DEI last year, and I think that’s out of the box. There’s no way that’s going to be put back in the box and no one would want it to be.
It is a progression in terms of brands taking it upon themselves to speak about these things because historically brands were apolitical or very few brands had statements about what they represented. That is changing, and I think that’s probably because of the way consumers relate to brands.
Brands became more vocal than ever about diversity, equity, and inclusion last year.…There’s no way that’s going to be put back in the box and no one would want it to be.—Michael Hawkins
What are the objectives of the Presidential Task Force?
MH: The Task Force has a huge number of things to look at, and we’re going to do our best to cover as much as we can. One is to establish how the Association can deal with these issues on a more permanent basis—not just this year in a report that will be the output of our Task Force.
It will need to have a home somewhere within the Association, and that’s one of the things that we hope to come away with. It could be a committee focusing on DEI; it could be something outside of the formal committee structure. INTA has already named a Diversity Officer of the Board—currently, [Vice President] Dana Northcott (Amazon, USA). One of the first tasks that we are undertaking is to look at the role and duties of the Diversity Officer. But it’s going beyond that: how do we get our members involved in DEI initiatives.
We’re all convinced on the Task Force that this is not a one-year thing; this is a permanent thing.
KR: We are working to provide recommendations for a strategy on how INTA should approach DEI going forward in both the short term and long term.
I think the most important thing for us to consider is, what can we do for the Association itself and the members; how can we increase visibility of DEI and DEI initiatives, as well as diverse members of the Association; how can we promote leadership among diverse members; and how can we improve inclusivity.
We’ve talked about the fact that INTA doesn’t have an official DEI policy, so one of the things that might come out of this is maybe the VP/Diversity Officer will be the person who champions a DEI policy for INTA, or some sort of statement related to DEI, whether it’s in the bylaws or somewhere else.
And then looking at the broader community, how can INTA be a leader in the industry in terms of promoting DEI, best practices, etc., as well as becoming allies with other organizations that are also promoting this important objective.
Does the Task Force Project Team itself reflect diversity, equity, and inclusion?
KR: We’re very diverse, and I think Tiki did an amazing job of selecting who would be on the Task Force. She was very thoughtful about geography, racial background, ethnic background, and sexual orientation—very thoughtful about making sure to include as many different types of diverse individuals, to get as many perspectives as possible while at the same time selecting people who are really passionate about this issue and who are so willing to contribute stories about themselves, about their countries, about their organizations, and just providing really meaningful content that we can use to push this initiative forward.
Traditionally, INTA has been sort of at the forefront with respect to gender diversity issues. So, we’re going to focus on a lot of the other different diversity pools.—Kim Reddick
How would you describe the state of DEI in INTA today?
KR: Right now, I would say, I’m very happy that INTA has decided to take on this initiative because up until now, aside from the DEI programming at last year’s [2020 Annual Meeting & Leadership] Meeting, I didn’t really feel DEI was an important objective for the Association. I certainly feel that members of the Association found it to be important and addressed it in their different companies or with their brands.
I took it upon myself to create Sistah Girls, a group to support, uplift, and inspire Black women in trademarks because I felt like there wasn’t a lot of representation of Black women, not only within INTA, but in the trademark community as a whole. I think many of [INTA’s] affinity groups may have started because of not having a presence of DEI within the Association. So, I’m really happy now that we have the opportunity to help shape and mold that for the Association.
MH: If you look at the membership as a whole, of course, we have a diverse membership of international members and attendees at our events, but there are many areas of diversity that are missing, and obviously missing. A lot of our members tend to come from very similar socio-economic backgrounds, for example, and that could be a problem because the legal profession as a whole is like that. But that’s something that we need to be aware of and we need to address.
One of the things that we want to look at is how we can encourage broader access to the profession and, ultimately, then to the Association. Obviously, the Association itself can’t change the entire profession, but we can work with others to help it to come about.
The leadership of the Association, the Board, very heavily backed this Task Force when we met with them in March. The executive team is very much behind it. This is something that there is a lot of energy behind and there’s a lot of enthusiasm about, so it’s great that the Association is really focusing on going all in.
How does the Task Force mirror the objectives of INTA’s upcoming Strategic Plan?
MH: I actually worked on, as part of the planning committee, the 2022‒2025 Strategic Plan and DEI was very much at the heart of our discussions for that.
We have a whole section in that on brands for a better society, building on our previous work. And now we’re talking about the Association developing thought leadership and communicating best practices on DEI as well as finding ways to check the levels of representation within the Association and to recognize brands that demonstrate commitment to DEI.
Obviously, the Strategic Plan focuses on our advocacy, our educational work, and so on, relating to the bread and butter—the trademark work—and diversity is not necessarily the first thing to be discussed in the Strategic Plan, but it is there, and it is very important.
INTA has had many presidents and Board members who are women. Why is it important to go beyond incorporating women into leadership roles at INTA and beyond the Association’s The Women’s LeadershIP Initiative and look at other aspects of diversity?
KR: Diversity means so much more than just gender diversity. In fact, we’ve decided as a Presidential Task Force that we are not going to do additional research on gender diversity because we have The Womens LeadershIP Initiative Report, and traditionally, INTA has been at the forefront with respect to gender diversity issues. So, we’re going to focus on a lot of the other different diversity pools, such as race, cultural identity, religion, sexual orientation, and people with disabilities, because those are the ones that are currently underrepresented within the Association and that need the most attention.
We’re all convinced on the Task Force that this is not a one-year thing; this is a permanent thing.” —Michael Hawkins
What experiences from your companies or from your personal life are you bringing to the Task Force discussion?
MH: We’ve been approaching this on a general level from all the Task Force members and collating their individual experiences from their companies. We are aware that some of the members of our Task Force already have very good best practices in this area, such as what they demand of suppliers, and we are looking at pulling together best practices for the profession as a whole.
In terms of my personal life, I have actually felt pretty supported in my career. As a gay man, I’ve worked with amazing colleagues and employers who have been fully supportive, allowing me to be very open about who I am. But I am very conscious of the fact that not everyone has that privilege and that luxury, and there are many people who are not able to bring their full selves to their jobs.
This profession is incredibly stressful, and if you’re not able to bring yourself to it, if you’re hiding who you are or not able to be open and comfortable, then I can only imagine how much more stressful it is. Many people may leave the profession because of that—because it’s just too much. That’s why it is so urgent that we really deal with it and make people feel included.
In addition to diversity and equity, it’s about inclusiveness as well, and so that no one will feel like they don’t belong in this Association or in the profession.
KR: Authenticity to me is what is key when it comes to DEI, particularly within your place of work. I think, as a diverse person, we need to feel seen and heard within our companies. And so, the company, while it may have a public-facing statement about diversity, you must look at what is it doing, both internally and externally, to demonstrate that it’s taking action in this regard.
From an internal perspective, do the employees feel like they can come to work and be their authentic selves? Do they feel supported when things like the George Floyd incident happened or the protests happened, or all the Asian hate crimes happening now? Are there affinity groups within the corporation that address these issues and support these groups of people?
Also, looking at leadership and positions of power within the company, are those held by all white males? Are there females in those roles? Are there gay individuals in those roles? Are there Black women in those roles? If the people filling these roles aren’t representative of the diversity within the corporation, is that something that the corporation is addressing? Those are the internal things I think diverse people want to see happening.
I feel like that is being addressed at my company. Uber has publicly identified itself as an anti-racist company and it is taking actions to promote that internally and externally. It is talking the talk and walking the walk. I think that’s very important for companies to do that for not only their employees, but also for their consumers and clientele.
Have you felt supported throughout your career and that you can be your authentic self or is that perhaps part of the reason why the Task Force is so important to you?
KR: That’s a really good question. I would say, at times, yes, but more often than not, that is not the case. Presently, I am able to be myself and bring my authentic self to work. But there have been other times where I have not felt completely supported in the workplace or even in the industry, for example, where I was the only Black person or the only woman in a room or the only Black woman and no one reached out to make me feel welcome or included. Sometimes I felt invisible, or like my views weren’t as important as someone who looked different than me but had the same exact view.
And so being on this Task Force is really important to me because it’s giving me an opportunity to contribute and be the change that I want to see right now. Doing this work is very personal to me, and I’m passionate about it.
Is it the role of a trademark association, of every association or company no matter what industry they’re in, to look at DEI?
MH: I think that’s a very good question because some people may think that it’s not the role of the trademark association to look at DEI, and we should stick to our bread and butter, which is advocacy and harmonization of trademark laws and practice.
And I can understand where people are coming from on that. But at the same time, we are a membership organization and we’re an international organization, and DEI impacts the IP profession hugely. We work internationally, we work with people from different cultures, and probably more so than other areas of law we are more exposed to prejudices and things like that because we work across borders. So as a profession it’s not that we can say DEI doesn’t really matter for us. It absolutely does because we are global as a profession and we are global as an association, and we want everyone to feel valued and to contribute.
And it is also about innovation. You get much greater innovation if you consider different points of view, different perspectives, different cultures, and so on. These things make it absolutely important that we consider the issue, and we bear it in mind on a permanent basis.
Being on this Task Force is really important to me because I have felt like it’s given me an opportunity to contribute and be the change that I want to see right now.—Kim Reddick
There’s increasing evidence of the importance of consumer trust for brand growth. How do DEI initiatives contribute to brand loyalty and brand value?
KR: That goes back to authenticity and people needing to feel connected in a certain way to a product or brand. I feel like you can connect with a brand when you can relate to it. So, if there is a diversity statement and brands take actions to make it known that DEI is a real initiative not just a statement they’ve made, and those actions are visible and palpable to consumers, I think that’s when you’re going to get the brand loyalty. At least that’s when I know that a company is being really genuine—when I can see it.
MH: Trust, I think, has always been at the heart of what trademarks are, so it’s all about being able to trust the source and the origin of the product. This is not something that’s new.
But what is new, I think, is that people have a lot more choice nowadays. People consider brands that reflect their values, their personalities, and their culture. They very much expect brands to treat that culture with respect, and they will walk away if they don’t think that it’s authentic. As Kim said, authenticity is key. And I think authenticity and genuinely trying to respect cultures and all individuals will inevitably increase brand value and brand growth.
Research shows that it is not enough for HR alone to work toward DEI goals—that it can’t be done in a silo. So, what do you deem essential to changing company culture?
MH: I think it’s being authentic—so not just having those plans but demonstrating that you really believe in them. And it’s also about being able to see role models within the company, so that not all the leadership looks different to you. That has a huge impact.
It’s starting conversations, sometimes difficult conversations, and letting people talk openly about how they feel, about their current working culture, and so on, and with the genuine aim of trying to improve. It must require absolute transparency—publishing data regularly on how the company is doing and recognizing where it has let down itself, its employees, and its customers.
Last year, the Presidential Task Force looked at all-star practitioners. You’re focusing on DEI. What do you see as the connection between the two?
MH: In one word, I would say mentoring. It’s mentoring people to show them the way to become an all-star IP practitioner, regardless of their backgrounds and so on.
KR: When I try to connect all-star practitioners with DEI, the thing that stands out to me is that anybody could be an all-star practitioner regardless of their background if they’re given the opportunity and the tools that are necessary to help them achieve that goal. If that means being able to see or be mentored by someone in a position of power, or who is an all-star practitioner that looks like them or has a similar background as them, then perhaps they can believe they can achieve that as well. So, it’s having an example or role model to push you forward if you haven’t been able to do that on your own.
If there’s one major result that emerges from the Task Force, what do you hope it will be?
MH: It’s to make people feel like they are comfortable being a full member of the Association—being able to participate.… The Association is just as much theirs as it is anyone else’s. For me, that would be the ideal takeaway—that no one would feel like they do not belong in our Association.
KR: It’s that DEI will be an ongoing topic addressed within the Association for years to come. I want us to make our recommendations and for the Board to act on them in a way that allows the Association to continue its diversity initiatives and objectives. If that leads to increased opportunities and leadership opportunities and building inclusiveness for all the diverse members of INTA, I think we’ve done our job.
In addition, this might be really idealistic, but I would love, at least for the trademark industry, for INTA to be the association that people look to for guidance on diversity and inclusion issues—to be that place that companies can go to find information about DEI and what the best practices are in this space.
Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this article, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.
© 2021 International Trademark Association
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