Thursday 22 August 2019

Darren Olivier

Diversity and Inclusion in IP: South Africa's opportunity

Yesterday, leading publication Managing Intellectual Property, published a Special Report on Diversity and Inclusion within the IP profession following a survey they conducted in July. The report can be viewed in full if you login as a guest subscriber, and it's worth a read. It will resonate with each and every one of you, but if that does not motivate you to read it, the fact that two thirds of in-house counsel advocate a diversity and inclusion policy, as one of their factors in choosing outside counsel, may just. 

For a South African, diversity and inclusion has been a subject of constant discussion for decades. Our unique past has made it that way and there is no respite because it remains as topical and important today. One may think that the South African discussion focuses only race and colour and less on other minority or alienation interests. There is no such thing as a "gender card", for example, but the term "race card" is easily understood, even by primary school children.

However, with the discussion on race and colour come the broader terms - discrimination, empathy, unconscious bias and understanding - which are so vital to dealing with the all aspects of diversity and inclusion. This is why I believe that South Africans can have a major part to play in the worldwide discussion on addressing the issues, so evident in the MIP report. In fact, I believe that South African firms and individuals have a unique opportunity to lead the discussion and debate on this aspect, and they should take it.

This is not to say that South African firms are diverse and inclusive and set the standard for a worldwide model. They, like many others, are simply not there yet. The opportunity lies in the daily conversation. There must be very few places on earth where, on a daily basis, a person will engage with others of such a broad spectrum of backgrounds, ethnicity, race, gender, means and cultures. With some self awareness, empathy, patience and fortitude there is an instant and live opportunity to practice and engage with the challenges and benefits of diversity and inclusion. 

The thing about South Africa too is that the polarising forces that are evident in worldwide politics today are too precarious here, to contemplate. We are destined to have the discussions, whether we like it or not, and with that comes unique advantages that enable us, as South African IP practitioners to develop skills and experience to contribute positively to the topic that the MIP Special Report highlights.

(edited on 23 August to remove a direct link to the Special Report, on request)

Darren Olivier

Darren Olivier

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