How Microsoft is advancing diversity in inventorship
Innovation is at the core of Microsoft's mission to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. We believe that diverse perspectives and backgrounds are essential for creating solutions that can address the needs and challenges of a global society. That's why we are committed to increasing diversity in inventorship, both within our company and across the industry.
According to the USPTO, only 12.8% of inventors named on US patents granted in 2019 were women, and the rate of growth has been slow over the past decades. This gender gap reflects a lost opportunity for innovation and social impact, as well as a lack of recognition and reward for women's contributions to science and technology.
To address this challenge, we have launched and supported various initiatives and programmes that aim to raise awareness, provide education, and foster collaboration among women inventors at Microsoft. We believe that even small, yet persistent, steps, when done with attention to data and impact, can make a big difference over time. It is not a race, but steady progress that helps everyone.
Programmes and initiatives
- Strategic partnership with employee resource groups: We have partnered with Women at Microsoft, one of the largest and most active employee resource groups at our company, to reach out to underrepresented inventor groups and encourage them to submit their ideas for patenting.
- For example, we held a panel of five women inventors to celebrate World IP Day on 26 April, our most well attended patent event to date. Attendees heard our message on the importance of submitting ideas for patenting and learned about our submission process.
- Additionally, we included spotlights on women inventors in the Women at Microsoft monthly newsletter. By selecting diverse inventors and sharing their stories with the broader community, we aim to encourage more women and diverse inventors to contribute their ideas for patenting.
- Targeted patent training for Women's Affinity Groups: We have designed and delivered customised patent training sessions for women's affinity groups within different engineering teams at Microsoft. These sessions cover the basics of patenting, the benefits of patenting, and best practices for patenting.
- Networking and patent discussion in small groups: After training sessions to raise awareness about patenting at Microsoft, we have facilitated networking and patent discussion in small groups, both physically in the room and virtually via Teams breakout rooms, for the participants of our events and training sessions. These groups provide a safe and supportive space for women inventors to share their ideas, ask questions, and receive feedback from their peers and mentors.
Tracking our impact
Microsoft believes in the importance of gathering and analysing data in parallel with working on the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programmes discussed above. This approach allows us to track our progress, identify gaps and opportunities, and adjust our strategies as needed. We use various metrics and tools to measure our impact, such as:
- PowerBI Dashboard: We have developed and continue to maintain a PowerBI dashboard that provides the patent group with up-to-date reporting on women inventorship by business unit. This dashboard helps us monitor the trends and patterns of patenting activity among women inventors at Microsoft, as well as benchmark our performance against the industry average.
- SharePoint Site: We have created and maintain a SharePoint site that serves as a landing space for our content and resources on women inventorship, including videos of panel discussions, inventor spotlights, relevant articles, FAQs, and more. This site allows us to reach a wider audience within Microsoft, as well as enable self-service for future women innovators who want to learn more about patenting.
- Communication: As a result of our programmes, including trainings, panels, and articles, we have seen an increase in outreach from our diverse inventor groups to our internal patent team. To facilitate communication and track engagement, we created an internal email alias “patentquestions”. This alias is a convenient way for our inventor community to contact the patent team with questions about how we do things and what we expect from invention submissions, and also helps us monitor engagement after each event.
Our vision and next steps
Since signing the Diversity Pledge as a founding pledgee and kicking off these various programmes, we have increased our percentage of women inventors by 3.5 percentage points. We are proud of the work we have done so far to advance diversity in inventorship at Microsoft, but we also acknowledge that there is still much more to be done. We are constantly looking for new ways to inspire, educate, and empower women inventors, as well as to collaborate with other partners and stakeholders who share our vision and goals.
Improving diversity in innovation can seem like an unsurmountable task: without funding or resources, how can big changes occur? We believe small steps, taken together and correlated to data, can institute change, and improve inclusion in the inventing process. We will continue to iterate on our programmes, expanding access to new audiences, and track the data to ensure our programmes are having a positive impact on the inventorship community.
We invite you to join us in our journey to advance diversity in inventorship at Microsoft. Together, we can make a difference for innovation and social impact.
Inclusivity Insights is a regular feature in which companies share stories, learnings, and experiences of their D&I journey related to IP and innovation with the IAM audience. Previous articles in the series: