Post Authored by Natalie Elizaroff

 In the November 17, 2022 Bar Admission Ceremony, the Supreme Court of Illinois welcomed nearly 1,500 new attorneys, many of which identified as women. These new attorneys will add to the growing number of registered legal professionals in the State of Illinois. According to the 2021 Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) Report, there are 95,480 registered Illinois lawyers, 60% of which identify as male. [1] Although male attorneys still greatly outnumber female attorneys, the percentage of female attorneys has steadily grown, up 5% over the last decade, according to the ABA National Lawyer Population Survey (ABA Survey). [2] While many may argue that this growth is negligible, by comparison from 1950 to 1970 only 3% of all lawyers were women. Both the ABA Survey and the ARDC report give a promising outlook on bridging the gender gap for legal professionals.

Even though female representation in the legal profession is slowly growing, women leaders in other fields are still a minority. According to a 2022 statistical survey, women represent 58.4% of the US workforce but account for only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Likewise, women make up only 8.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs, with less than 1% of those being women of color. [3] Despite 74% of girls expressing a desire for a STEM career, fewer than 20% of women in STEM hold a leadership position and they are twice as likely as men in the same industry to leave their jobs, be laid off, or furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic. [4]

Similarly, the gender disparity can also be seen affecting women involved in patenting and intellectual property. According to a new United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) report entitled, “Where are U.S. women patentees? Assessing three decades of growth,” women inventors only make up 12-13% of patents. Although women are a clear minority in the patenting industry, the 30-year study noted that the number of counties with women inventor-patentees grew by 32% from 1990 through 2019. [5]

In an effort to combat the gender disparity and to support women in STEM, the United States USPTO has recently launched the Women’s Entrepreneurship (WE) initiative to “inspire women and tap their potential to meaningfully increase equity, job creation, and economic prosperity.” [6] The WE initiative launched following President Biden’s October 31, 2022 proclamation naming November 2022 as National Entrepreneurship Month. [7] The WE initiative is a collaborative effort between the USPTO and the United States Department of Commerce to increase the number of women-led businesses to bolster jobs, consumer choice, and economic prosperity.

In addition to the WE initiative, earlier this year the USPTO introduced several initiatives to expand innovation to promote jobs and U.S. prosperity. Kathi Vidal, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, discussed improvements that would increase accessibility and enable underrepresented communities to become key players in the innovation ecosystem. [8] Providing the necessary resources to empower women and other minorities, Vidal envisions a possible 4% increase in the GDP per capita, or by about $1 trillion. The WE initiative alongside the USPTO’s ongoing efforts and programs designed to encourage, empower, and support the innovators of tomorrow are important steps in bridging the gender and minority gaps existing in STEM, business, and leadership roles.

As 2022 nears an end, these new initiatives and efforts give hope for future change and equal representation. While considerable work remains to be done, the legal professionals of today can help bridge the gender gap by providing information and knowledge of the available resources to female inventors and underrepresented minorities. Not only would these efforts drive business on a community level, but they could also prompt important administrative and internal conversations within companies and other organizations.

If you are interested in increasing your knowledge and understanding of these topics, the USPTO is hosting the Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium (https://www.uspto.gov/about-us/events/womens-entrepreneurship-symposium). Following on the heels of the November 30, 20222 Women’s Entrepreneurship (WE) initiative launch, the Symposium will be held next year as a three-part series on March 1, 15, and 29 in 2023. The Symposium offers attendees a chance to learn about innovation and business from public and private sector experts.

If you are looking to make a difference locally, it is worthwhile to get involved with organizations such as Girls 4 Science (https://girls4science.org/). Girls 4 Science is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing girls in Chicago, ages 10-18 years old, with opportunities to experience (STEM) science, technology, engineering, and math. They have various mentorship, volunteer, and support-based programs that enable you to get involved and pave the way for future inventors and entrepreneurs.

The upcoming year is filled with opportunities to promote equality, diversity, and IP. Let 2023 be the year we celebrate the ingenuity of inventors, creators, and innovators from all groups.

[1] Mary F. Andreoni, 2021 Year in Review: Highlights of the 2021 Annual Report of the ARDC, Illinois Courts (May 24, 2022), https://www.illinoiscourts.gov/News/1089/2021-Year-in-Review-Highlights-of-the-2021-Annual-Report-of-the-ARDC/news-detail/.

[2] ABA survey finds 1.3M lawyers in the U.S., A.B.A (June 20, 2022),  https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2022/06/aba-lawyers-survey/.

[3] Sky Ariella, 25 Women In Leadership Statistics [2022]: Facts On The Gender Gap In Corporate And Political Leadership, Zippia (Nov. 9, 2022), https://www.zippia.com/advice/women-in-leadership-statistics/.

[4] Abby McCain, 40 Telling Women In Technology Statistics [2022]: Computer Science Gender Ratio, Zippia (Oct. 31, 2022), https://www.zippia.com/advice/women-in-technology-statistics/.

[5] Latest USPTO report finds a 32% increase in the number of U.S. counties where women patented between 1990 and 2019, USPTO (Oct. 19, 2022), https://www.uspto.gov/about-us/news-updates/latest-uspto-report-finds-32-increase-number-us-counties-where-women-patented.

[6] USPTO and the Department of Commerce launch Women’s Entrepreneurship (WE) initiative to empower more women founders across America, USPTO (Nov. 16, 2022), https://www.uspto.gov/about-us/news-updates/uspto-and-department-commerce-launch-womens-entrepreneurship-we-initiative.

[7] Proclamation No. 10487, 87 Fed. Reg. 66,525 (Oct. 31, 2022). https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2022/10/31/a-proclamation-on-national-entrepreneurship-month-2022/

[8] Kathi Vidal, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and the USPTO’s Council for Inclusive Innovation expand innovation to promote jobs and U.S. prosperity, Director’s Blog: the latest from USPTO leadership (July 27, 2022), https://www.uspto.gov/blog/director/entry/secretary-of-commerce-gina-raimondo.

About the Author:

NatalieElizaroff - Headshot

Before pursuing a legal career, Natalie spent several years in the microbiology department at Evanston Hospital where she conducted comparative research studies, performed quality control testing, and worked on state-of-the-art medical device technology. After doing a swift 180 and finding law as her true calling, Natalie focused her efforts into intellectual property.

Natalie received a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology, with a minor in Biostatistics from Loyola University Chicago. She earned her law degree from UIC School of Law and she is currently working as an Associate at Advitam IP LLC, where she handles a variety of IP matters including trademark litigation, copyright infringement, and other IP-related disputes.