Nish Parikh Forbes Councils Member

Forbes Human Resources Council

Corporate initiatives to foster an inclusive workplace — or what has come to be known as diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) — have been steadily growing in recent years. Earlier, DE&I was considered only government compliance or just a “program” to be run by companies. But organizations are now faced with an overwhelming degree of disruption since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out. While some have faced huge revenue losses, operation and supply chain dislocations, and liquidity and solvency challenges, others are trying to cope with unforeseen demand spikes.

The lessons already learned from the pandemic tell us that DE&I may now recede as a strategic priority in most organizations. And one can’t blame a company’s leaders for that. It may be largely unintentional. Most companies will have to focus on more pertinent needs like adapting to new ways of working, consolidating the workforce capacity and maintaining productivity.

Key To Recovery

A 2018 McKinsey report exhaustively demonstrates how decisive diversity and inclusion practices are to organizational success. The January 2018 issue of the Deloitte Review has revealed that companies that follow an inclusive culture are twice more likely to meet or exceed financial targets and six times more likely to be agile and innovative. These companies, the report claims, are eight times more likely to achieve a better business outcome.

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“Diversity and inclusion are an American problem; we don’t have this issue here.”

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this from non-U.S.-based employees of global companies. I’ve also lost count of the number of times I’ve heard managers express surprise when their U.S.-based diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts are not as successful in locations outside of the U.S.

To date, organizations across the world have followed the American lead when it comes to DEI. They’ve benefited from the extensive research, data, literature, role models, best practices, narratives, and success stories and have been inspired to address inequality in their own workplaces. But for global organizations aspiring to be inclusive of diverse talent across their international teams, it’s just as important that employees in Paris, Mumbai, and Buenos Aires are on board as it is for those in New York and Seattle.

While biases, discrimination, and inequality exist everywhere, their expression is contextual. To move the needle further and faster, leaders need to address DEI with a diversified lens whose view includes narratives, discussions, and solutions that are representative of local contexts. If they don’t, global companies’ local teams will likely continue to have limited success with their “one-size-fits-all” DEI efforts. DEI will remain an “American issue” and global progress restricted. It’s time to diversify DEI.

To do this, leaders can draw inspiration from the management term “glocal,” a mix of the words global and local. The term was made popular by the sociologist Roland Robertson and describes a management approach that balances the need for global strategies and practices with local adaptation.

Using a glocal lens allows organizations to identify a DEI vision and strategy that defines broad areas of focus while also allowing flexibility for local adaptation within those key areas. Here are five things to keep in mind when diversifying your DEI approach.

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Braxton Davis and Jeremiah Chan have heard the complaint from law firms with patent specialties for years: The firms want to hire diverse candidates, but qualified women and racial minorities are hard to find.

So when Davis joined Chan’s patent team at Meta Platforms Inc. last year, they started to brainstorm. The result was the Patent Pipeline Program (PPP), designed to train scientists and engineers in patent work and connect them with law firms—before they ever enter law school.

“To the law firms and legal departments that keep saying they cannot find diverse candidates, PPP essentially says, ‘No problem,’” said Chan, head of patents at Meta. “PPP delivers a direct supply of talented candidates.”

The program is part of a broader effort to rethink how law firms and companies can increase diversity in the patent field, where women and racial minorities are severely underrepresented. Fewer than 2% of patent attorneys and patent agents, for example, are women who are members of minority groups, one study found.

Law firms’ efforts to recruit diverse candidates have traditionally relied on law schools and lateral attorney hires. The PPP takes a different approach. It focuses on graduating college students, putting them on a path to become technical specialists and patent agents.

“The patent bar gives us a unique opportunity to take advantage of the fact that you don’t have to go to law school in order to join the patent profession,” Davis said.

More ‘Michaels’ Than Racially Diverse Women

Fewer than 22% of patent attorneys and agents registered with the Patent and Trademark Office are women, a 2020 study led by the Virginia patent law firm Harrity & Harrity LLP found. Patent agents aren’t attorneys but can work on inventors’ patent applications.

The average number of PTO registrants who are racial minorities has been around 6.5% over the past two decades, according to the study.

“Among racially diverse women, the numbers are significantly worse,” the authors wrote in a September 2020 article for Landslide, a magazine published by the ABA’s Section of Intellectual Property Law.

“In fact, there are more patent attorneys and agents named ‘Michael’ in the United States than there are racially diverse women,” the authors wrote.

Various factors contribute to the low numbers. A science or engineering background is required to take the required Patent and Trademark Office’s patent bar exam and register with the office. A lack of diversity in those fields narrows the patent pipeline.

Even then, students with the technical chops often aren’t exposed to patent work as a career path. And for those who want to become patent attorneys, law school presents its own barriers, including high costs.

What’s left is a small group of diverse students leaving law school with the qualifications to be patent lawyers.

“Law firms and corporate legal departments all want to recruit diverse candidates, but we are ultimately left fishing from the same small pool of candidates,” said Micheal Binns, associate general counsel at Meta.

Healing the Wound

The lack of diversity has consequences for inventors seeking patent protection.

Chan recalled the story of Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, who in the late 1990s wanted to patent her invention for women’s shapewear. Blakely couldn’t find a single female patent attorney in Georgia.

And male patent attorneys she visited “were not super impressed” with her idea, Blakely previously told NPR. Blakely ended up having to draft much of the application herself.

“All of this is very connected to the importance of diversity across the board, and it demonstrates the importance of diverse perspectives in fostering and supporting innovation,” Chan said.

Davis has been teaching women and minorities the basics of preparing patent applications for over a decade, most recently through a nonprofit he created, the National Council on Patent Practicum.

Since partnering with Meta to launch the PPP, the NCPP has been trying to keep up with the interest from law firms and corporations that want to be part of the program. Some to jump in early on include BakerHostetler, FisherBroyles LLP, and IBM Corp.

Already three candidates are in law firms as technical specialists. They will also spend time in-house, experiences that allow them to dig into patent work. It can also be a jumping off point to law school for candidates interested in becoming patent attorneys.

“We’re doing something to not bandage the wound but actually heal it,” Davis said. “It’s not just a quick fix.”

The NCPP is working now to scale up and bring on more people to train the next class of candidates. Program leaders are also considering ways to expand the PPP, including potential scholarships for individuals who decide to go to law school.

“That is the value of this program—it’s increasing the pool in the field,” said Mark Tidman, chair of the IP group at BakerHostetler, which has brought on a technical specialist through the PPP.

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A few days ago, former Miami Dolphins football coach, Brian Flores, sued the National Football League (NFL) and three teams alleging discrimination in the course of his interview processes with two teams and his termination by Miami. Among the allegations in the 58-page lawsuit, Flores describes a situation in which he was scheduled to interview with the NY Giants, but days before the interview, received an inadvertent text from former boss Bill Belichick congratulating another candidate for already getting the job. When asked about the incident, the Giants said they were “pleased and confident” with their hiring process, and that they seriously considered Flores. 

The NFL implemented the Rooney Rule in 2003 to correct inequities in management roles by requiring teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching vacancies. Nearly 20 years have passed since the creation of the rule, and today, we have only 1 black head coach in a league where nearly 60% of the players are black. The data speaks for itself, and the NFL is just one of many examples where people from historically marginalized communities are denied equal opportunities. The legal industry is no exception. 

Women and people of color are severely underrepresented in my own profession of intellectual property law. For example, the American Bar Association reported that only 5% of attorneys in the U.S. are Black, and only 1.7% practice intellectual property law according to a survey by the American Intellectual Property Law Association. Only 21% of patent practitioners registered with the patent bar identify as female even though women account for more than 50 percent of law school entering classes. The numbers are bad, but the lack of progress is just as alarming.

Extensive research has shown that diverse teams are better in every way – smarter, more innovative, and more effective at solving problems. When you have people with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, it facilitates greater cognitive diversity which produces better solutions. For global companies like my employer, a more diverse workforce is better able to design and ship inclusive products that meet the needs of its diverse global user community. 

So if diverse teams clearly deliver better results, what’s stopping us from hiring them? Here are a few reasons why I think progress has been so slow in my profession.  

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Before recent increased DEI efforts led companies to directly partner with schools, many HBCU students struggled to find job opportunities that aligned with their career goals. It’s an experience that Bilal Issifou knows well — after finding himself at an internship he wasn’t passionate about, the North Carolina A&T alumnus launched his tech-based start-up Unchained Inc., which has helped hundreds of HBCU students and graduates get jobs and internships at Fortune 500 companies.

Native to Togo, West Africa, Issifou came to the U.S. at age 5. His parents instilled hard work and education in him at an early age, which prompted him to pursue pre-law in undergrad. Being on campus helped him hone in on his networking, communication and interpersonal skills, which Issifou says was “critical to his success as an entrepreneur.”

After starting Kingdom of Youth, a nonprofit dedicated to the development of school-aged children in Greensboro, North Carolina, Issifou decided he wanted to further uplift Black students by creating a professional web platform that pairs HBCU students and graduates with companies that align with their interests and experience. 

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The Value Gap is a MarketWatch Q&A series with business leaders, academics, policymakers and activists on reducing racial and social inequalities.

Innovation holds the promise of economic prosperity for emerging inventors — but for some, seeing their idea come to fruition remains out of reach.

“Throughout history, women and underrepresented minorities have not been able to participate fully in each stage of the innovation process,” Lisa Cook, a professor of economics and international relations at Michigan State University, told MarketWatch. “We have to make sure that people understand that they have creativity, and their ideas will be taken seriously.”

Diversity gaps in the U.S. patent system persist, in part, because of an absence of data on patent applicants. This lack of transparency has meant that patent holders are predominantly white, male and wealthy.

A recent study found that women, especially African-American and Latina women, obtain patents at significantly lower rates than men; people of color get approved for patents less often than white people; and individuals from lower-income families are less likely to acquire a patent than those who grew up in affluent families.

Cook’s expertise on a range of macroeconomic issues earned her roles at the White House Council of Economic Advisers under former President Barack Obama and on President Biden’s transition team.

Asked about reports that she is on a shortlist of economists under consideration for a vacant Fed board seat, Cook said, “I’m honored my name has even been raised in the conversation.” If chosen and confirmed, she’d be the first Black woman to serve in the role. 

But Cook’s scholarship on invention gaps has also shed light on the economic costs of excluding African Americans and women. Including underrepresented groups in the patent-development process would increase U.S. GDP by 2.7% per capita, and by roughly $1 trillion annually, according to her research. The economic activity from patents is estimated to be over $8 trillion, more than one-third of U.S gross domestic product.

“Every single part of that system, as far as generating ideas, keeps the economy going,” Cook said. “That’s where my analysis begins and ends. The whole world benefits when we accelerate the pace and arrival rate of ideas.”

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An expert in entrepreneurship argues that greater diversity is the key to corporate creativity.

When Riitta Katila looks at old photos or movies about the space program of the 1960s, she sees one common thread among the people depicted there — homogeneity.

The engineers and technicians who first put humans on the moon were, almost without exception, white and male.

While society has come a long way in the decades since, Katila, who is an expert in technology strategy and organizational learning, says there’s still a long way to go. She notes that companies need innovation not only to reach the top, but to stay there. And now more than ever, innovative companies should be hiring, promoting, and listening to a broader range of voices.

The good news is that innovation can be taught. It’s like a recipe, says Katila, who encourages entrepreneurs — even those who have already built successful companies — to seek out mentors who can help them navigate the future. More important, those same entrepreneurs need to proactively identify mentors who can empower their team members to think like innovators too, as Katila tells Stanford Engineering’s The Future of Everything podcast, hosted by bioengineer Russ Altman. You can listen and subscribe here.

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Five hundreds years ago a Spanish physiologist declared that genius was stored in the testicles. Even today, studies have shown that people associate men with genius more than women. Award-winning science writer and broadcaster Angela Saini wants to know why. Saini examines why people are so reluctant to credit intellectual brilliance to women – now and throughout history. Einstein, for instance, needed a woman’s help. She hears about a proposal for making the concept of genius more inclusive and discusses the impact on girls in school when teachers take gender out of classrooms.

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The state of women hangs in the balance

A year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, women have made important gains in representation, and especially in senior leadership. But the pandemic continues to take a toll. Women are now significantly more burned out—and increasingly more so than men.

Despite this added stress and exhaustion, women are rising to the moment as stronger leaders and taking on the extra work that comes with this: compared to men at the same level, women are doing more to support their teams and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. They are also more likely than men to practice allyship. Yet this critical work is going unrecognized and unrewarded by most companies, and that has concerning implications. Companies risk losing the very leaders they need right now, and it’s hard to imagine organizations navigating the pandemic and building inclusive workplaces if this work isn’t truly prioritized.

There is also a disconnect between companies’ growing commitment to racial equity and the lack of improvement we see in the day-to-day experiences of women of color. Women of color face similar types and relative frequencies of microaggressions as they did two years ago—and they remain far more likely than white women to be on the receiving end of disrespectful and “othering” behavior. And while more white employees see themselves as allies to women of color, they are no more likely than last year to speak out against discrimination, mentor or sponsor women of color, or take other actions to advocate for them.

The impact of the last year and half on women is still far from clear. But the risks to women—and the companies that depend on their leadership—are very real.


Dr. Rory Cooper is the founder and director of the Human Engineering Research Labs (HERL) at the University of Pittsburgh and Department of Veteran Affairs in the United States. From ergonomic push rims (a patented technology that reduces upper extremity pain and injury in wheelchair users) on wheelchairs to robots to assist with lifts and transfers, home automation and prosthetics, there’s no stopping Dr. Cooper – Paralympian, serial inventor, army veteran, engineer, marathon racer. Dr. Cooper discusses his ground-breaking work and the importance of intellectual property (IP) in bringing it to the market.

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