Jordan Downham left the farm she grew up on in Tippecanoe County to study journalism at Notre Dame. But working as a journalist, she found herself in an often inflexible, male-dominated environment defined by late shifts and high-pressure deadlines. Many people might not think of law school as an escape from such challenges, but Downham enrolled at IU Maurer School of Law in Bloomington full of excitement and relief. “I went in with an open mind, but thinking I might do ag tech patents, because I had my personal roots in agriculture. But I found out I couldn’t be a patent attorney because I had no science background.”
Instead, Downham was drawn to trademark and copyright law. “Word choice and splitting hairs is a huge part of trademark and copyright law, and after working as an editor, I had strengths and passion in that area.” Graduating in 2016, Downham was hired by Quarles & Brady LLP, where she helps technology and science innovators bring their products to market. “I help them navigate the process of registering a trademark. It can’t be too descriptive or too similar to another. This process helps market their product so people can actually use the tools they create.”
Downham says one of the best parts of her experience in law has been the supportive environment at Quarles & Brady. The company culture is part of what sold her on the firm. “I find the environment much less inflexible than journalism. My firm has been formally recognized multiple times as a Best Law Firm for Women, and it’s proven to be so.” With a two-year-old son, Jordan had the opportunity to work a 75% schedule without needing to self-advocate or “take what I could get,” she explained.
It’s also been heartening to her that a lot of the contacts and clients she serves are women. “Whether they’re in marketing or legal at tech companies, I collaborate with lots of women helping amazing discoveries find the light of day. It was a surprise at first. I had heard horror stories about the boy’s club and I’m grateful that I haven’t had that experience.” Downham loves supporting Women & Hi Tech because she knows the mission of the organization is to create a parallel experience for women in STEM roles across every industry and specialty.
Jordan encourages anyone with an interest in STEM to think about how their skill set can apply to the needs of STEM companies. “You can be involved with STEM without the background. There are so many ways to be supportive in every tech company. Attorneys are needed, support and sales staff are needed, marketers are needed. You can still be involved in exciting work even if you aren’t a biochemist or software engineer. If that industry fascinates you and gets you excited, don’t be afraid to come at it with a different angle.”
Sustaining the potential of innovation is also part of how Downham got involved with Women & Hi Tech. The Get On Board fair, organized by Leadership Indianapolis, is an event that connects interested people to volunteer and nonprofit leadership opportunities. That’s where Jordan met fellow intellectual property attorney and Women & Hi Tech Past President Angela Freeman. “Women & Hi Tech needed help with updating its bylaws and other governance documents and so I shared my brain. I knew revising the governance with the Board was an important contribution to help the organization remain sustainable.”
Jordan has deep experience in creative problem-solving that still abides by rules and guidelines. “The trademark office has very strict requirements. You don’t get to just smudge the rules. A copyright or trademark application can be easily rejected and we don’t want that because clients are focusing on the product and the innovation. That mess isn’t what they need to worry about.”
In much the same fashion, her insight helped Women & Hi Tech’s board create governance that protects the organization and lets other members focus on their roles without worry. “Women & Hi Tech are innovators,” she said. Jordan went on to share one of her hopes for the organization to leverage that innovation. “We need to be thinking about the ways women in STEM get opportunities. We don’t have to just focus on giving a woman a spot that was for a man before. What if we create a new spot that makes the most of female perspectives? Men don’t have to be uprooted; instead, women are elevated on our terms and in roles that prioritize the use of our strengths. So much of what we struggle with comes from this illusion of scarcity,” Downham concluded. “The world is wide enough for all types of people to have opportunities.”