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Where the boys weren’t

|Written By Jeffrey H. Waugh

One thing was strikingly obvious to attendees of a recent roundtable made up of members of the legal profession whom IP Osgoode director Giuseppina D’Agostino referred to as the “power women of IP law.”

Only four men turned up to hear about the issues being faced by women practising in the field.

That’s out of an estimated 45 people in attendance  at the event, which was organized by IP Osgoode and held at the downtown Toronto office of Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP.

Among those four was Rex Shoyama, assistant director of the recently inaugurated intellectual property centre, who spoke to Law Times about the importance of being present to learn about the challenges being faced in striking the appropriate balance.

“In many respects, it was kind of an eye-opening experience for me as well, to hear all of these things,” says Shoyama. “And that’s probably one of the things that’s key; first and foremost is just to get men in there to listen to all of this.”

Secondly, says Shoyama, is discovering ways of getting men involved and contributing. He says there are some valuable take-away points to be garnered from these sessions that would help in the struggle towards ensuring diversity in the workplace.

“Even something like just being there to hear these things and get those thoughts going through the mind is pretty key,” says Shoyama.

The panel, which was assembled to present views from women involved in IP law over five sectors (private practice, academia, industry, government, and the judiciary), described many of their personal experiences.

They included everything from dressing in a less feminine manner; gaining respect from students in the classroom; to missing out on opportunities stemming from passing up afternoon golf games.

Do those lost opportunities translate into a loss of client files? wondered panellist Sangeetha Punniyamoorthy, associate with the intellectual property boutique firm of Dimock Stratton LLP. Not for her, she said, but then left it open to debate on whether or not it results in increased years to reach partnership.

Professor Carys Craig with Osgoode Hall Law School and Virginia Jones with the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association both spoke of the additional struggles that came with being in the workforce at such a young age.

“I think the reality is, that as a female professor, the perception of competence, of intellect, of authority, doesn’t simply come along with the position that you occupy as it may be assumed to do for a professor who more readily fits the professorial mold,” said Craig, who began teaching at Osgoode at the age of 24, something she was able to accomplish after going through the Scottish system where one enters law school directly after high school. “It has to rather be earned and proved.”

“The broad range of perspectives we got from the panel was particularly good,” says Shoyama. “It was a great way to get unique perspectives from a variety of folks.”

Both Shoyama and D’Agostino say they hope to see the women and IP law roundtable become an annual event.

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