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A career in copyright law - Meet Michele Woods, Director, WIPO Copyright Law Division

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by Impactpool

Meet Michele Woods, an established professional copyright lawyer, and Director at WIPO Copyright Law Division.

Before commencing her work at WIPO in 2012, Michele practiced law with a focus on copyright for 22 years, beginning in private practice and then shifting to international policy and legislative work for her national copyright office.

Photo: Michele Woods at WIPO

"It’s fascinating to be in the perfect place to observe the international norm-setting process."

When and why did you choose to work for WIPO?

I was working for my national copyright office in a role that covered international policy, and I participated in delegations to WIPO for sessions of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) and several other committees.  In the SCCR we were working on the texts for two treaties, and it was very exciting when the opportunity arose to apply for a position that would allow me to work on these international policy issues from within WIPO.  I started work at WIPO in 2012, two weeks before the Diplomatic Conference for one of the treaties.  The other Diplomatic Conference followed a year later, and now both treaties have entered into force.

What is your job description? Can you describe a typical work-week or month?

My job description is to manage the Copyright Law Division, including acting as the Secretary of the SCCR.  The Division also works with WIPO Member States to join and implement the WIPO copyright and related rights treaties and provides legislative assistance for the development of national copyright and related rights laws.  We spend a lot of time working with national copyright experts and stakeholders from the Member States and speaking about WIPO’s work on international copyright law in a variety of settings.

My work varies a lot from week-to-week and even day-to-day.  Typical types of weeks include weeks in which we are coordinating the substantive and logistical aspects of a meeting of the SCCR, weeks in which I travel to a Member State to participate in a conference or lead a seminar or workshop (of course now these activities are remote due to the Covid-19 pandemic), and weeks in which I am drafting or editing publications, legislative advice, speeches, or presentations about some aspect of our work.  

What’s special about working in a specialized UN Agency?

For me, working at WIPO is a unique chance to work in my area of legal specialty at the international level. "It’s fascinating to be in the perfect place to observe the international norm-setting process."

What according to you is the most effective way to address gender issues in the workplace?

Gender issues in the workplace need to be addressed both systemically, as matters of organizational policy, and at the individual level.  Organizations need to articulate and follow through on clear, explicit policies supporting gender equity.  At the individual level, as managers, we can model support for the organizational policy, including its practical implementation in our daily work. We can also look for opportunities to mentor and encourage other women to pursue opportunities in the workplace. 

At WIPO, the copyright sector is unusual in that the vast majority of the employees are women, including most of the managers, but we cannot use this as a reason to say gender issues don’t matter for us.  I try to remain vigilant about gender equity in the broader WIPO context, while carrying out my work responsibilities, and in my personal interactions with colleagues.

What can be done at the country-level to ensure access to skills training for young women and girls?

This is a subject that also needs to be addressed at a systemic level and at the same time through personal action.  A culture of respect for education for girls and young women as a fundamental societal goal needs to be nurtured through national and international policy.  Infrastructure also matters:  We need to make sure young women and girls can access online information and training through the Internet, and that training materials are available in local languages.  With the right tools, there is a lot of training material available, including material WIPO has prepared on the fundamentals of intellectual property and how to make a living in the creative industries.  We also offer many webinars.  At the same time, at an individual level within our spheres of influence, we can act as role models and mentors to young women and girls.  We can also make sure we include young women and girls whenever appropriate as we organize projects and activities around the world.

Do you have a personal habit or trait that has been critical for your success?

I would name two traits:  being persistent (not giving up in the face of challenges) and staying calm (most of the time).  These traits come naturally and work for me, but there are many different paths to success (and many different ideas of success), and the broader takeaway is to find pathways that work for you based on your traits. 

The journey to adopt and maintain useful and productive habits is a continuing one for me, and here the best advice I can give is to find a habit formation process that works for you. The habits that work well for you may be different from the habits that work for me, but we will all benefit from conscious attention to habit formation.  I recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear as an excellent book on this subject.

We know that many of our readers would like to hear some advice on how to get a job with WIPO. Do you have any good tips to share?

I suggest starting with the basic step of monitoring the postings of job opportunities. Then follow up to get more information on positions that sound interesting.  This sounds so basic, but in my experience, it is often neglected.  If there is no immediate opening in your area of experience or interest, consider opportunities to work with WIPO through a short-term contract or temporary position.  I also advise against assuming that there is an internal candidate and thus not applying for posted positions.  Even if another candidate (internal or external) is awarded a position, if we are impressed with your application and interview, we might remember you when another opportunity is available. 

Based on your own experience, what are the three top things that you would suggest a talent highlight in her application?

First, as an applicant, you should highlight how your skills and background fit the position that has been advertised.  Spell this out and make it easy for the reviewer to see that you have the required years of experience, the necessary languages, and any other requested qualifications.  Second, you should demonstrate excellent written and oral communication skills, because these skills are vital in any position.  Part of demonstrating excellent writing skills is proofreading the application to make sure it is not full of typos!  Third, show us that you appreciate teamwork and want to be part of a team and that you value working with people from different countries and backgrounds.  The reviewer may be thinking about how you would fit in with an existing team.

This article was a part of Impactpool's Striving Towards Gender Parity month-long campaign, supported by WIPO - curated to shed light on gender parity in the International Public Sector and empower women with career resources, job opportunities, and employee spotlights. 

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