CRK: We’re talking with Mu Yang about diversity and inclusion (D&I). Mu is a frequent speaker on these important issues, and has “walked the walk,” devoting her time to co-found the Philadelphia Women in IP Mentoring Program. Mu, when’s the next opportunity to hear you share your thoughts?
Mu: Well, I’m speaking March 20th at the Women, Diversity & Change Summit: Philadelphia, part of the Women in Law Summit Series.
CRK: Tell us a little bit about that.
Mu: My topic is “developing your work style, approach and strengths.” It is such an important topic, because for a career to be fulfilling, you need to be yourself.
Many women go to work every day carrying a heavy “backpack” on their shoulders. They’ve been advised to be warm and likable, but not too feminine; be competent and confident, but don’t be arrogant; be assertive, but don’t sound bossy; don’t talk about your kids at work; don’t apologize too much; don’t be too emotional… It is just exhausting.
So my talk is about how to transform this “backpack” into a “tote” full of useful tools. Help attendees to identify styles and approaches that they are comfortable with, find their authentic self at work.
CRK: Taking a step back, how did you become interested in D&I issues, or more specifically, what is it about these issues that speak to you, or, you know, makes you eager to devote your time to them?
Mu: Corporate legal departments have made more progress in advancing women and minorities than law firms. After several female attorneys that I respected greatly left to go in-house, I thought, maybe I should follow their footsteps. But I like the folks here at CRK a lot, and I enjoy the work that I do. Rather joining a corporate legal team, I decided to be a “trailblazer,” promote awareness of and work on D&I issues, and make CRK a place where women and minorities can thrive.
CRK: CRK is over 30% diverse ethnically, but only about 10% diverse gender-wise. Have you taken an active role mentoring CRK’s other female attorneys?
Mu: I knew you’d ask me this question! As Madeleine Albright said, “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Of course, I will give them all the help that I can, because, as you know, I am on a mission to recruit and retain more female attorneys.
But more importantly, and this maybe counter-intuitive for some, I encourage them to seek male mentors and sponsors. I am the only female partner at our firm. There is only so much that one person can offer. Don’t limit your potential mentors and sponsors to people that look like you. Luckily, my male partners are very invested in mentoring female attorneys. Many have served as mentors in the Philadelphia Women in IP mentorship program.
CRK: What are some ideas you have to improve diversity in patent law?
Mu: It is undisputed that patent law is a male dominated field. So we have a lot of work ahead of us. Patent firms need to ask themselves some hard questions and seek data to answer these questions. When are women and minorities leaving our firm? What about our firm culture has limited women and minorities’ growth? CRK is one of the best places to work for, but there is always room for improvement.
I have many ideas to improve diversity, to name two: 1) foster sense of belonging; and 2) pause and check for unconscious bias.
The sense of belong is critical to retaining women and minorities. When we feel as though we belong to a certain group, we feel safe in stepping outside of our comfort zone and taking on new challenges. As a result, we grow, we thrive, and of course, we stay with the firm. But when people feel that they do not belong to a group, guess what? They leave.
Consistently checking for unconscious bias is also important, but very hard to do for the fast-paced law firm environment. We should remind ourselves to take a pause and check for unconscious bias. We should pause before we staff attorneys on a case, pause before we go into an interview, and pause before we post a job description or a marketing campaign. We should build in “pause moments” to disrupt bias all along the way.
CRK: Ballpark figures indicate that about 12% of electrical engineering degrees are awarded to women, and maybe just a little higher for computer science (~14%). Then, of course, we’d have to convince those women to go to law school. Can you tell us a little about why you, as a successful project manager, decided to go to law school?
Mu: Very good question! I talked a lot about retention earlier, but it is equally important to build the pipeline. We need to plant the seed early.
For me, the seed was planted in my junior year in college. My computer ethics professor introduced the career path of patent attorney to us during a lecture. Most of us in the class, over 100 students, I think, didn’t even know this career path existed. Then this seed grew in me, and now here I am.
I spoke at Drexel’s Women in Computing Society Banquet last year. Hopefully, I succeeded in planting a few seeds and, some of the students from the event will go to law school and ultimately become my colleagues. Wouldn’t that be nice!