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Freshfields Risk & Compliance

| 5 minutes read

Five years of the ERA Pledge

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the Equal Representation in Arbitration (ERA) Pledge.

During this time the Pledge has garnered the support of over 4,670 signatories from over 112 countries, including over 850 organisations.

In addition to the Global Steering Committee co-chaired by Sylvia Noury, (founder of the Pledge and London head of the arbitration team at Freshfields) and Samantha Bakstad (Senior Legal Counsel at BP), the Pledge operates through its growing network of Subcommittees: the Latin America Subcommittee, the Africa Subcommittee, the India network, the Middle East Subcommittee, the Corporate Subcommittee and the Young Practitioner’s Subcommittee as well as active groups in the Asia-Pacific region, Canada, France and Italy.

This video has been released in celebration of the Pledge’s fifth birthday. 

Strong origins

The Pledge has come a long way since its formal launch in May 2016. Key to the success of the Pledge was how it started. The idea of the Pledge was conceived at a dinner in London hosted by Sylvia Noury in May 2015, which sought to identify concrete action that could be taken to address the realisation that all too many arbitral tribunals lacked female representation. The draft Pledge was then debated and refined at nine further consultation dinners around the world with stakeholders from across the arbitration community – representatives from law firms, arbitral institutions, corporates, judges and arbitrators.

Committed stakeholders from these consultation dinners joined the Pledge’s first Global Steering Committee, ensuring that it had solid and broad geographical support when it launched with 300 signatories in May 2016.

The Pledge has maintained this inclusive and grass roots approach to its growth, empowering members of the Global Steering Committee – and now the various Pledge Subcommittees  – to be ambassadors for the Pledge in their regions and to take forth promotion and implementation initiatives involving local arbitration communities.

The growth in publication and reporting of statistics

Another key success and driver of change brought about by the Pledge has been the publication of gender appointment statistics by many of the major arbitral institutions. Before 2015, statistics were not widely published and the only data available was thanks to Lucy Greenwood’s efforts in gathering statistics informally. Now, nearly all of the major arbitral institutions and an increasing number of regional institutions publish full gender diversity statistics annually, broken down by appointment type. This information is key to being able to track progress and analyse where further efforts are needed.

Progress is being made

Based on the data gathered by Lucy Greenwood before 2015, it was estimated that only around 10 per cent of tribunal members were female. The average for 2019 was 21.5 per cent female arbitrator appointments, according to the report of the Cross-Institutional Task Force on Gender Diversity in Arbitral Appointments and Proceedings (the “Task Force Report”).

The statistics make clear that the main drivers of progress over the last five years have been the arbitral institutions. The Task Force Report revealed the 2019 average for arbitral institutions was 34 per cent female appointments, compared to only 13.9 per cent for the parties and 21.5 per cent for co-arbitrator appointments. Recent 2020 figures show that certain institutions have reached gender parity or near parity in their appointments. For example, the LCIA in 2020 appointed 48 per cent female arbitrators and the DIS appointed 53 per cent female arbitrators.

In addition to the statistics, progress is also evident anecdotally through the now rare occurrence of all-male panels (“manels”) at arbitration conferences and examples of parties and law firms calling out all-male arbitrator candidates lists during the arbitrator selection process.

More than half the respondents in the latest Queen Mary International Arbitration Survey, published in May 2021, agree that progress has been made in terms of gender diversity on arbitral tribunals over the past three years.

Implementation of the Pledge

In addition to encouraging individuals and organisations involved in arbitration to sign up to the ERA Pledge and implement the commitments in their own practices, the Pledge Steering Committee members and Subcommittees organise events and initiatives to advance implementation of the diversity goals of the Pledge. The following are examples of such initiatives from the past year:

  • The Corporate Subcommittee published guidelines for corporate users of arbitration to provide examples of positive actions that corporates can take to implement the diversity goals of the Pledge. The Corporate Guidelines are available in English and Spanish. See also my earlier blog on the Guidelines here.
  • A Checklist of Best Practices for the Selection of Arbitrators was launched by the Paris members of the Pledge Steering Committee in October 2020. The Checklist outlines the best practices, methods and tools available for selecting arbitrators, relying on objective criteria that promote both efficiency and diversity in arbitration. You can access a copy of the Checklist here in French and English, and more information is available here.
  • The DIS-ERA Pledge Gender Champion Initiative was launched in January 2020 bringing together 25 Gender Champions from across law firms in Germany to share best practices with respect to gender diversity in their arbitrator appointment processes, including statistical self-monitoring. For more details, see here.
  • The Young Practitioners Subcommittee hosted the "Push for Parity" series which focused on launching a career as an arbitrator and offered honest conversation, concrete advice and answers to the hardest questions about succeeding as an arbitrator. You can access the recordings of the webinars via the Pledge website here.
  • The Young Practitioners Subcommittee has entered into a partnership with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) to provide ERA members with discounted training (details here).
  • The African Subcommittee is in the middle of a seven-part “meet the female African arbitrator” series (supported by the Association of Young Arbitrators and An African Promise). The first three events took place during 2020 with esteemed Nigerian arbitrators, Dorothy Ufot, SAN, FCIArb (UK) and Funke Adekoya, SAN and esteemed Kenyan arbitrator and advocate, Njeri Kariuki.
  • A Pledge Asia event took place in March 2021 showcasing  female arbitrator candidates experienced in the region.
  • The ERA Pledge Middle East Subcommittee hosted a panel made up of esteemed arbitration practitioners discussed (i) diversity in the Middle East arbitration community and (ii) how to make it as a female arbitrator in the Middle East.
  • The Young Practitioners Committee hosted a webinar “Share the joy! An honest discussion about shared parental leave, parenthood responsibilities and career advancement in international arbitration”.
  • The Pledge India network organises monthly events for female practitioners in India. Recent events so far during 2021 have included: (i) a training session on closed door advocacy, led by Marion Smith QC and Karishma Vora, and (ii) a session with Nathalie Voser of Rothorn Legal to share her experiences, advice, and journey as an arbitrator and founding partner of her firm.
  • The Pledge officially launched in China with an event on diversity in international arbitration that took place during China Arbitration Week with 9 speakers and 8942 people watching online.
  • The Italian members of the Global Steering Committee regularly host “meet the female arbitrator” events.

The Corporate Subcommittee are also hosting a “meet the female arbitrator” event on Tuesday 25 May for in-house counsel on the rise of climate change related disputes and the role of arbitration. For further details about the event and to register, see here

For further information

To find out about further Pledge events and initiatives, you can connect with the Pledge on LinkedIn or see the events page on the Pledge website.