Today, we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender equality.
To mark this day we asked our colleagues to share the name of a woman who inspires them, who amazes them or simply whom they look up to. One name and an explanation why.
I look up to Marie Curie. She discovered two elements and received two Nobel Prizes, something no other person has done before or since. Her success inspires me to work hard and work smartly. As a side note, someone at the office is always “borrowing” my Marie and Pierre Curie mug, so I know there must be another fan.
Ella van Aanhold (Patent Attorney Trainee)
Katalin Karikó is a biochemist who left Hungary for the US in the mid-eighties, with her husband, four-year-old daughter and $900 hidden in a teddy bear, in order to be able to research mRNA therapies. For three decades, she hit dead ends. At some point, frustrated with the lack of funding she was able to obtain for her research, the US university she worked for suggested that she leave or be demoted and face a substantial pay cut. While battling cancer, she decided to stay and accept a demotion in order to pursue her research. That was when she met and started working with Drew Weissman, an immunologist with whom she published in 2005 a study on a specifically modified form of mRNA which did not induce an immune response, thus paving the way for the use of mRNA in therapies and vaccines. This was a breakthrough without which the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines would not have been developed. Her life is not about power and ego but rather purpose, persistence and hard work.
Sabine Agé (Partner), Zoltan d’Haese (Patent Attorney Trainee) and Anne Servoir (Partner)
Of course, I have to mention Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an inspiring woman for all of us. I quote her during my first class in intellectual property law at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel: “I tell law students, if you’re going to be a lawyer and just practice your profession, you have a skill—very much like a plumber. But if you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself, something that makes life better for people less fortunate.”
She’s such an obvious choice, however, that I would like to mention a second name, much less evident, and that’s Patti Smith, a singer-songwriter whom I’ve admired since I was 14. She’s both “rock & roll” and vulnerable, poetic and strong. She was active during the last US presidential election and repeatedly performed her song “People Have the Power”, a big hit then and now.
Fabienne Brison (Partner)
Maya Angelou serves as an inspiration because she had the courage to do the opposite of what was expected of her and – as she put it in her poem “And Still I Rise”– kept rising.
Clara Berrisch (Associate)
Women who have left a mark on history in periods that were not favourable to the expression of their strength have impressed me since childhood. I am thinking of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Elizabeth I (Queen of England and Ireland), for example. These two women had an extraordinary destiny and demonstrated independence and strength of character as well as longevity in power, which enabled them to be excellent politicians, in short real “queens”. Eleanor of Aquitaine was the mother of Richard the Lionheart, whom she certainly inspired, and is buried in the magnificent Fontevraud Abbey.
Agathe Caillé (Senior Associate)
I am thinking of Meryl Streep but will opt for someone less well known but with a (granted, slim) connection to Ms Streep, namely Beryl Markham, whose autobiography West with the Night I warmly recommend. Ms Markham was one of the first bush pilots as well as a horse trainer and author. She flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean, from east to west, in 1936. I enjoyed reading about daily life on her farm, her encounter with a lion, her friendships with members of the local tribe and of course her flights on the lookout for game. Her story calls to mind that of Karen Blixen (portrayed by Meryl Streep in the Oscar winning film “Out of Africa”). The two women were in fact friends and shared the same love interest, the famous pilot Denys Finch Hatton. But I believe Ms Markham deserves to be in the spotlight because she fought gender bias and didn’t care what people thought of her or which role in society she should play. She was a skilled aviator and author which, in those days, were male-dominated professions. Hemingway praised her writing skills: “She has written so well, and marvellously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer”. She came under criticism for her “supposedly very busy” love life (she was rumoured to have had an affair with King George V’s son, Prince Henry, and married three times). Her autobiography has a bit of a distant tone at times, but I guess that’s due to the author’s strong and adventurous character! Beryl Markham was a real pioneer, who wasn’t constrained by social conventions.
Alexandra Coppieters (Marketing & Communications Manager)
There are many women who have had a profound impact on my life and worldview, in very different ways. Since it’s difficult for me to name only one, I’ll cheat and pick two. The first is my mother. She may not have had the best example herself, but that didn’t stop her from raising me and my sister with love, respect and a zest for life. She taught me confidence and encouraged me to choose my own path, even if it is quite different from her own. My second choice is Clarice Lispector, a dazzling writer who defied all the odds. She made her literary debut as a fiery 23-year-old Jewish woman in the 1940s in Brazil, still very much a macho society at the time, with a voice that is unmistakenly unique and honest. Even more remarkable, she became one of the most popular authors in South America. Her novels Near to the Wild Heart and The Hour of the Star literally left me breathless. So much talent, passion and audacity! A truly inspiring writer.
Laura Fresco (Partner)
My choice for an inspiring woman is undoubtedly Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, better known as Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000), an Austrian-born actress who became a nationalised US citizen in 1953. A highly gifted woman, she began her engineering studies at the age of 16, but dropped out to pursue her dream of becoming an actress in 1933. She was forced into an arranged – and abusive – marriage to weapons manufacturer and Nazi sympathiser Friedrich Mandl, but managed to flee to Paris and later became a famous actress in the US.
Hedy provided the US government with information about German weapons technology which she had learned from her (former) husband and developed and patented a “secret communication system” (US 2.292.387), based on an early version of frequency hopping technology, to avoid torpedo interception by the enemy. Though her invention was not used in WWII and she did not receive proper recognition until the late 1950s, it served as a basis for modern technologies such as Bluetooth and WiFi.
Alejandro Gonzalez (Associate)
Countless women have inspired me, especially over the past year, but if I have to name only one I choose Amelia Earhart. She believed that women could do whatever they wanted to, so she became a pilot in the 1920s. Even today, certain professions don’t seem to attract many women, due to how we present them. If we continue to peddle the narrative that women can be “as good as” men at some jobs, we are implying that they are somehow behind and that men are still better suited for the job. We still need many women who are willing to follow in Amelia’s footsteps and break down barriers. It’s about believing in your dreams and pursuing them. I especially like her quote, “The most effective way to do it is to do it” and when it comes to D&I, we just need to do it. We grow and develop through trial and error.
Carine Hofkens (HR Manager)
Rather than one woman, it’s all women I would like to celebrate by inviting you to watch (or watch again) the wonderful film “Woman”. It gives the floor to more than 2,000 women from 50 different countries. They talk about their joys, doubts, struggles and what drives them: love, motherhood, injustice, sexuality, stereotypes, and emancipation are their main concerns.
All of these unique stories paint an enlightening and inspiring portrait of what it means to be a woman in today’s world. Just watching the trailer or listening to the soundtrack (with very inspiring lyrics) will brighten up your day!
Florence Jacquand (Partner)
My sister, Josefien Jansen, is a great source of inspiration, not only for me but for many others. Josefien guides individuals who suffer from stress, anxiety and negative feelings and gives them the tools to find peace and happiness. She has even developed her own method to achieve these goals.
Lieselot Jansen (Patent Administrator)
My choice is Creola Katherine Johnson (née Coleman, 26 August 1918 – 24 February 2020), an American mathematician and NASA employee whose calculations of orbital mechanics were critical to the success of the first and subsequent US-crewed spaceflights. The movie “Hidden Figures” follows her and other female African American mathematicians working for NASA.
Sandra Klein (Assistant)
A woman who has inspired me – and continues to inspire me – and whom I look up to is Tracy Chapman, a politically and socially active musician committed to defending human rights and women’s rights.
Her folk-pop music is inspiring, engaging and reaches a wide audience due to its universal message and appeal. She writes and sings about events and situations that listeners can identify with, regardless of where or how they live.
Her political and social engagement makes her music even more powerful. One of my favorite songs is Behind the Wall.
Caroline Levesque (Partner)
Anne Carson is a Canadian poet and essayist. My favourite poem of hers is entitled “Merry Christmas from Hegel”, a prose poem that combines philosophy, the essay form and poetry. In this poem, the subject goes outside to ‘speculate’ with the snow and the fir trees. Speculation is here called the “proper business of philosophy”, the effort to grasp reality in its interactive entirety. This is a wonderful example of someone experiencing mindfulness and finding such speculation a worthy way of spending an afternoon. I find it inspiring that Carson can, in a seemingly effortless fashion, combine these concepts in a short poem, which is both quite specific to her own (fictionalized) experience and universal in its message. It makes the reader long for the same state of mind she experienced outside in the snow.
Erik Lumens (Associate Patent Attorney)
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) was a writer, philosopher and teacher who defended human rights in general and women’s rights in particular. She criticised the patriarchal society and denounced inequalities between men and women in areas such as education, marriage and family roles. Her book The Second Sex has become a classic of feminist literature. I studied her work at school and was very impressed. Even today, she is still inspiring when I think of the future of women.
Alicia Martin (Associate)
It’s always easiest to find inspiring political leaders outside your own country. I find Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, quite inspiring. Despite her position, she is unapologetically female (she took maternity leave while in office) and is unafraid to demonstrate what are traditionally considered “female” qualities, such as compassion and empathy. She also reminds me of a beautiful country where professional opportunities are not restricted by one’s background but rather based on one’s achievements. She seems to trust in people, which may be why they, in turn, place their trust in her.
Marta Mendes (Partner)
I draw inspiration from so many women who are a source of pride for all women. Thus, the woman I have selected is a combination of:
- Simone Veil, who was in so many areas the “first women”; her speech on the liberalization of abortion, to the male-dominated Assemblée Nationale, was a great moment for the feminist cause,
- Marie Curie, for her contribution to science,
- Mother Theresa, for her infinite goodness,
- Claudie Haigneré, who opened the doors of Space to all women,
- Camille Claudel, for her art,
- Christiane Taubira, for her fight against intolerance,
- Hélène Lazareff, the founder of Elle, without which I would have no summer beach reading,
- Françoise Dolto, who continues to help all mothers raise their children,
- Rania of Jordan, a voice for women’s rights in the Muslim world, and
- all mothers, because life comes with a mum, not a manual.
Sophie Micallef (Partner)
If there is one woman to whom International Women’s Day should pay tribute, it’s Eve. Without Eve, there would be no other women, be they performers, inventors, teachers, directors, designers, politicians, scientists, actors, athletes, book heroines or even my mother or my wife!
Without waiting for IWD, artists, among others, have always celebrated women; for example:
-Leonardo da Vinci, with the Mona Lisa
-Eugène Delacroix, with Liberty guiding the people
-Gustave Courbet, with the origin of the world, or
-Louis Aragon: “Woman is the future of man”.
Denis Monégier du Sorbier (Partner)
My vote goes to Samantha Davies, a yachtswoman on “Initiatives-cœur“, an Imoca racing yacht which supports the humanitarian association Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque, an organisation that helps children suffering from serious heart defects get surgery in France when this is impossible in their home country due to a lack of technical or financial means.
After a good start to the Vendée Globe yacht race, she had to drop out at the Cape of Good Hope due to keel damage but subsequently decided to resume the race, knowing she would not be classified at the end, in order to support her charity and bring her boat back to Les Sables d’Olonnes.
Usually competitors who drop out do not decide to re-enter the race. Isabelle Joschke is another yachtswoman who did so. All yachtswomen who started the race this year will finish it!
François Perrin (Scientific Consultant)
I am inspired by Lise Meitner (1878-1968). Lise Meitner was both an immigrant and one of the greatest physicists of all time. She is thus an inspiration for people with a background in science and engineering, like me, who are pursuing a career abroad.
When she earned a doctorate in physics, she was only the second woman in the world to have done so. Describing the field she chose as ‘male dominated’ would be a massive understatement. Due to rising antisemitism in Germany before the Second World War, she fled through the Netherlands and Denmark to Sweden, which – like many other countries at that time – did not particularly welcome refugees. Only months after her arrival in Sweden, she correctly interpreted experimental results to show and prove nuclear fission. She thus made a substantial contribution to the discovery of nuclear fission. It is surprising that she did not receive a Noble prize, although this does not seem to have bothered her too much. Her attitude was that there is more to strive for than acknowledgement. Ms Meitner showed that despite being placed at a disadvantage, you can achieve not only as much as but even more than your peers.
Matthias Pfister (Patent Attorney)
Tracy Edwards is my choice. In the male-dominated world of sailing in the late ’80s, Tracy was told she could only work on a yacht as a cook. The established ‘wisdom’ was that women were too fragile for yacht racing. No one would allow her to join as a proper crew member. Unwilling to take no for an answer and at great personal expense, she set up her own all-female crewed yacht Maiden and entered the 1989-1990 Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race. Her yacht won several of the legs and almost won the race. She became the first female winner of the Yachtsman of the Year Trophy. She’s a person of incredible resolve with enormous strength of character, the very embodiment of grit.
Chris Pierce (Partner)
Reading Ma Anandamayi allows us to remember who we are and to find a balance with our environment and our loved ones. Her life is fascinating because although poor and uneducated, Ma became one of the most renowned Hindu sages. Her message is one of unconditional love. When I read her, I realised and accepted that we are more than what we do and the role we play in society. Her words bring us back to who we are deep within ourselves and anchor us. How can we move forward if we don’t know who we are?
School and education shape us, but wisdom can also be found within us. She helped me find my inner compass.
“See the world as a vast organism and not as a collection of parts, and then you will no longer doubt that all are equally important. In the Universe, big and small, rich and poor, are on an equal footing….Then you will achieve unity in diversity and diversity in Unity.”
Oriane Prot (Assistant)
Kim Gordon is an American musician, singer and songwriter, best known as the bassist, guitarist and lead vocalist of alternative rock band Sonic Youth (1981-2011). She is the “grande dame” of alternative rock music and a true pioneer, a multi-talented rock icon with an impressive output not only in music but also in art, fashion and acting. I find her truly inspiring for so many reasons, not least her unparalleled coolness.
Tim Robrechts (Senior Associate)
Delia Lipszyc, a professor emeritus at the University of Buenos Aires and the president of ALAI Argentina, was my professor in IP & IT law at the University Carlos III in Madrid. She is one of the most prominent scholars in copyright worldwide, probably the copyright scholar from a Spanish-speaking country with the greatest number of translated books. In fact, her work has been translated into several languages, including Arabic and Chinese. She encouraged me to research and study copyright in more depth and to explore the importance of the relationships between Europe and Latin America, from both a cultural and legal perspective.
Franz Ruz (Partner)
I would say that a woman who has left a strong mark on me is a fictional one, Lieutenant Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver in the movie Alien: The Eighth Passenger.
I have always been influenced by fiction, both books and movies. I especially like science fiction. Ripley introduced, in the late ’70s, a completely new role model for women, beyond the stereotypical “love interest” whose sole purpose is to support the leading man. Lieutenant Ripley is the main character, the hero. She is independent, intelligent, strong-willed, tremendously courageous, tenacious and very resourceful; she faces loss and fear with strength and fights against all odds, no matter the cost. She gives the “bad guy” a run for his money and proves a worthy opponent. Seeing her on the screen for the first time, I realised that some of the values I most admire go beyond gender. Sometimes I even ask myself what Ripley would do in this situation.
José Antonio Sanmartìn (Partner)
It is impossible for me to name just one woman who has inspired me. I am inspired by most women in my environment. They all have unique qualities and characteristics. Some have the ability to take care of those in need, no matter what, some are always positive when things seem hopeless. But most of all, I am inspired and amazed by the strength and ability of women to simply carry on, make something of their lives, and take care of their loved ones, even when life has certainly not been kind to them.
Brenda Sequeira-Meijer (Assistant)
Lee Miller, an American model who came to France to become a photographer, is my choice. She started as a student of Man Ray and built a career of her own, as a photojournalist and war correspondent during WWII. We owe most of the first photographic evidence of the horrors of concentration camps to her.
Marion Soulé (Associate)
Two women impressed me the most when I was still a child, Golda Meir and Indira Gandhi. Both served as prime minister of their respective countries in the late ’60s and early ’70s. As a young boy, I could not assess their politics, but I found them to be refreshing faces in a world still completely dominated by men. I remember watching them on TV and finding their leadership more comforting than that of their male counterparts. A more recent source of inspiration is Angela Merkel. Unfortunately, not many women reach the highest political office, but for me they represent something different (with the exception of Margaret Thatcher) and the hope of a better world.
Benoît Strowel (Managing Partner)