Remarks as delivered
Kathi Vidal, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO
Women in IP: Diversity and Inclusion: Mentoring, Affinity Groups and the Collection of Demographic Data
March 7, 2023
I have to take a picture of you all because this just warms my heart that you are all in this room around this common goal. This is remarkable that you all came here. I want to thank my team for the incredible work of putting this on and prioritizing all of this.
15 years ago, I was in Southern California at my very first Fortune Most Powerful Women event. I remember being there, sitting on the lawn, listening to these women from other countries who came up onto the stage. They talked about how women, who are some of the most powerful women in our country, were reaching out to the State Department and Vital Voices and mentoring women from other countries. I immediately raised my hand. I was so excited to sign up.
The first woman I mentored was Susan Rammekwa from South Africa. Susan had given up her pension fund to start an orphanage. She had funded it to the point where she had 200 students, 200 children, most of whose parents had died from AIDS in South Africa, and she was trying to figure out how to scale from there. Through that experience, I connected her with venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. I connected her with other women who could talk to her about how to scale and how to be self-sustainable, because at that point she was having to raise funds continually. We taught her how to buy sewing machines and start making uniforms for Oprah's network so that she no longer had to do fundraising, and we found a way to help her be sustainable.
And I remember through that experience that there is a saying in Africa, and I may not say this exactly right, but “if you lift the woman you lift the country.” And I think that's what we're all here for. That we all recognize that diversity and inclusion is not just a moral imperative, it is an in international imperative. It is what's going to grow jobs in our countries. It is what's going to keep us from having to deal with people who have been lost in the system where we have to support them on the back end. And it's going to lift all of us. So, thank you for being committed to that.
I'm so delighted that people are tuning in from 30 countries. I think that says a lot. This is our inaugural year. So as Karin has reminded me, we're going to grow from here and I just really appreciate that. We're especially excited to be hosting so many of you here on campus.
I'm looking forward to staying through this session, and I'm going to be back for the fireside chat, because I want to hear what other countries are doing when it comes to mentoring.
There are five IP office heads with us here today. I think that shows the importance of these issues to everyone. I also want to extend my gratitude to all of you for making this such a priority, and for traveling to be with us.
These next three days are important for all of us. We continue to lay the groundwork for generating a monumental increase in participation in the global system of innovation. It is imperative that we do so.
At the USPTO, we know that the broad diversity of our country is the number-one reason our nation continues to be inventive and innovative. This diversity drives our arts and culture, and our economic vitality and growth. But we are not unique and we are not doing enough. Most of the world recognizes the importance of diversity in developing solutions to the world’s most challenging problems. Most of these problems are common to all of us.
Tomorrow we celebrate International Women’s Day. I could not be prouder that we are celebrating that together here. In the joint statement we crafted for tomorrow, we say that, and I quote: “Women’s entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity fosters technological advancement, enriches culture, and contributes to economic growth.”
We know this truth to be self-evident. Yet, women are still not fully included in the global economic system. There are gender gaps throughout the entire IP system, from STEM education to invention and entrepreneurship to IP legal representation. There are gender gaps in access to digital technologies and finance, to career advancements in the workplace, and to pay.
The cost of these gender gaps is high. As noted by the World Bank, and I quote again: “There would be economic gains in the order of five to six trillion dollars if women were supported to start and scale new businesses at the same rate as men.” If women were supported to start and scale new businesses at the same rate as men in the United States alone, we know that if women had equal representation within the patent system, we would be talking about increasing our economy by upwards of one trillion dollars. That's not just the economy— that's your neighbors, that’s jobs, that’s people being able to put food on their table.
This week, we are focusing on what we can do together, to better support women in innovation. We will discuss new opportunities for mentoring programs, creating innovative employee affinity groups, and we are looking to improve the gathering and analysis of economic data.
I want to just pause just to tell you some of what we're doing within the Biden Administration and at the USPTO. The Biden administration is very committed to these issues on a global scale. It's something that when I go over to the Department of Commerce in Washington, we often talk about, and I'm often asked what more we can do.
In addition to that, we've launched a number of initiatives. The commissioner mentioned some of the work that we're doing. The Council for Inclusive Innovation is a big part of that. We've now expanded that across government, because this is not an IP issue, it is a government issue; it is a country issue; it is an international issue.
So, in doing that work, we are looking to launch in different verticals, one of which we launched around women in November. It's called WE, or women entrepreneurship. The events right now are focused on bringing some of the top talent, some of the top women in the country, to talk to innovators across our nation. But it's not exclusive. You are welcome to join as well, you're welcome to listen in; we also want to hear what you're doing in that regard.
In addition to that, I sit on the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and that is all about opening doors, about making sure we're lifting everybody in the country and giving everybody access to innovation and entrepreneurship, and finding out what is standing in people's way. So, we have some of the best minds in the country that we meet with regularly on that agenda alone.
We know that women also benefit substantially from mentoring programs. So through WE, in addition to helping women think about intellectual property and about funding—which is critical—we are also working on a mentoring network. We're working with intellectual property organizations; we're working with other organizations to find a way to create a very strong backbone that supports all the women in this country. And we're going to be doing those types of things, not just with women, but with everybody who doesn't equally participate in our innovation ecosystem. This week, you will spend time sharing mentoring experiences and discussing what could work well on an international scale. I'm very excited about that.
There are many different kinds of these programs, and there may even be new variations that we can develop when we all put our minds together. We look forward to sharing best practices with you, including data, and we welcome you to look at the data that we've collected including on where women patent. We're trying to learn from that data, we're trying to parse it, to figure out what more we can be doing. And we know we have a panel featuring economists, so I'm really happy to hear about the output of that panel.
We'll also talk about voluntary employee organizations, or VEOs. I will say that when I came to the USPTO, a little over 10 months ago, I couldn't believe that we had these amazing best-in-class VEOs. I've seen them in other organizations, but I feel like we've found the magic in them. Whenever I attend a VEO event, you can just feel the energy in the room, it's palpable. The excitement, the enthusiasm, when people get together with like-minded people, all of whom are supporting each other. These groups not only support each other, they support everybody within the organization, and we are working with them to find out what we can do to scale their energy across the entire organization, including to those who are not in VEOs.
Over the next few days, I hope you also get a chance to network. There's nothing like being in a room of like-minded people, where we all have the same goals. We all have different experiences to share and we can all do more together. In closing, I know in preparation for this event, that we asked you to provide a quote on the importance of the impact of women in IP, so I'd like to share mine.
I believe that we need to get everybody off the bench. Everybody who's not fully participating needs to come off the bench and help us solve world problems, and help us create greater economic prosperity. As I mentioned, doing that is not just a moral imperative, it is a national one, and it is an international one. I look forward to working with all of you in the years ahead, but also working to speed and scale all the ideas that come out of this room. Thank you.