Last week marked the seventh anniversary of the Equal Representation in Arbitration (ERA) Pledge (the Pledge).
The Pledge, established in 2016, seeks to increase, on an equal opportunity basis, the number of women appointed as arbitrators in order to achieve a fair representation as soon practically possible, with the ultimate goal of full parity. The Pledge operates through a Global Steering Committee, co-chaired Sylvia Noury KC (founder of the Pledge and London head of arbitration at Freshfields) and Justin D’Agostino (CEO of Herbert Smith Freehills) supported by a growing network of Subcommittees.
Each year to mark the anniversary, we report on the progress of the Pledge over the previous year and look ahead to plans for the coming year.
2022 was a milestone year in terms of signatories; the Pledge surpassed 5000 signatories and the number of organisations who have signed the Pledge topped 1000. The total number of signatories currently stands at 5,411 from over 113 countries.
Since the launch of the Pledge in 2016, undeniable progress has been made with respect to gender diversity with the latest data showing that in 2021, women made up 26.1% of the total number of arbitrator appointments globally.
Although this represents an overall increase from the 12% of female arbitrators appointed globally when the Pledge was launched in 2016, in recent years the rate of progress has slowed to 1-2% per year. Unless more rapid progress is made in the coming years, achieving gender equality in arbitral appointments remains a distant reality.
Many of the arbitral institutions continue to lead the way in gender parity in their own appointments. In 2022, for the first time in the SCC’s history, a majority of female arbitrators were appointed by the board (54% of the total appointments were women - see here). Similarly, the Netherlands Arbitration Institute (NAI) appointed 53% female arbitrators - a significant increase on 29% in 2021 (here). Other institutions to have reported their 2022 statistics to date include the LCIA who appointed 47% female arbitrators (here); and ICSID with 37% (here).
It is striking, however, that overall proportion of party appointments of women dropped from 19.4% in 2020 to 17.9% in 2021. This is compared to an average of 37.9% for institutional appointments in 2021. Since most arbitrators are appointed by the parties, more work is needed in this area if we are to achieve equal representation. The Pledge’s Corporate Subcommittee is focused on increasing the number of women arbitrators being appointed by corporate parties and their external counsel, and this remains a priority for the Pledge.
Another area in need of greater improvement relates to first time appointments of arbitrators. While it is a positive step that some institutions have begun recording data on the gender breakdown of first-time appointees sitting in their arbitrations, in 2021 this data revealed that women represented only 34.8% of such appointments (see 2022 ICCA Report here). Increasing this figure is key to securing a more gender diverse pool of arbitrators for the future and therefore is another priority for the Pledge.
Other areas of progress
Significantly, over the last few months, two arbitral institutions have amended their rules to include an express requirement to take diversity into account when appointing arbitrators: the Scottish Arbitration Centre (SAC) and CEPANI in Belgium. The Pledge is particularly proud that the new SAC Rules specifically reference the Pledge and REAL (aimed at improving racial equality for arbitration lawyers).
The Equal Representation in Expert Witnesses (ERE) Pledge, a sister Pledge to ERA, aimed at improving the diversity of expert witnesses in dispute resolution procedures worldwide, has got off to a flying start with more than 1000 signatories since its launch in May 2022. You can read more about the ERE Pledge on its website here. Another Pledge mirroring the wording of the ERA Pledge for Adjudicators was also launched by the Adjudication Society in March 2023 to tackle the very low number of female adjudicators (see here).
The ERA Female Arbitrator Search Tool, now hosted by ICCA, continues to assist parties in their searches for qualified women arbitrators matching the needs of the specific dispute. Other resources have also been compiled to help showcase women arbitrators and make them more visible to appointing parties, including the MUTE OFF Thursdays Compendium of Women Arbitrators, who was recently voted the winner of the 2023 ERA Pledge Award.
Much of the Pledge’s progress is driven through the hard work and commitment of its Subcommittees. Some highlights from the last year include the following.
- The Subcommittees regularly organise and support events, training and other events aimed at increasing the visibility of qualified women arbitrators. A collaboration of the Young Practitioners (YPSC), UK Bar, Corporate and US Subcommittees recently hosted two simultaneous Meet the Female Arbitrator events on 20 March in London and New York showcasing over 50 women arbitrators to an audience of those involved in party appointments of arbitrators, including representatives of corporates and law firms.
- The Corporate Subcommittee launched revised Corporate Guidelines aimed at introducing the Pledge to corporates and providing corporate signatories with a framework for concrete steps to assist those wishing to implement the Pledge within their organisation.
- The Asia-Pacific (APAC) Subcommittee has enjoyed a productive first year organising itself through seven workstreams, which include female mentoring, showcasing talent, securing first time appointments, training and knowledge sharing.
- The Middle East Subcommittee organised a highly successful and oversubscribed half-day event held in Dubai in May 2022 that brought together in-house counsel and institutional speakers, focusing on how arbitral efficiency can promote diversity. Several of the regional institutions, including the Dubai International Arbitration Centre (DIAC), have also recently signed up to the Pledge.
- The Africa Subcommittee continues to be very successful and active. The Pledge now has 800 signatories from Africa, including nearly 150 organisations, and continues to spread to new African countries, most recently to Cameroon.
- The LatAm Subcommittee and the YPSC joined forces to launch the Meet the Female Arbitrator Series, LATAM edition. They also co-organised a panel together with Arbitral Women and Women Way in Arbitration focused on diversity in corporates and how to foster a culture of diversity within organisations at the ICC Miami Conference.
- The India Subcommittee, chaired by Sherina Petit (Norton Rose), has grown to a group of 127 women across India. This group share opportunities, organise training and events and provide a forum for questions and support.
- The Pledge also continues to be active in other regions through members of the Global Steering Committee or Pledge Ambassadors, including in Canada, France, Italy, Israel, Scotland and Ukraine.
Pledge’s plans for 2023
Looking ahead, the Pledge will continue to target some of the priority areas mentioned in this blog, including driving forward progress in party appointments of female arbitrators and increasing the number of women securing their first appointment as arbitrator.
The Pledge continues to spread to new countries. Launch events are planned for Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar in the coming months.
The UK Bar Subcommittee is the newest of the Pledge Subcommittees, established by a group of founding members to focus on the promotion and implementation of the Pledge among Chambers and individual barristers. The next steps are to expand membership of the Subcommittee and produce some guidelines on implementing the objectives of the Pledge at the Bar.
The work of the Pledge would not be possible without the commitment of many individuals involved. A huge thank you to all the members of the Global Steering Committee and Subcommittees, and to all the Pledge supporters for signing up to the Pledge and implementing the aims and objectives of the Pledge in your day-to-day work.
For further information
To find out about further Pledge, you can connect with the Pledge on LinkedIn and visit the Pledge website.