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Arbitral Women: Winning Communication

“You’re the voice, try and understand it,
Make a noise and make it clear.” John Farnham

On 2 February 2017, Hogan Lovells hosted a joint event with ArbitralWomen entitled “Winning Communication” in which a panel, including Julianne Hughes-Jennett, partner at Hogan Lovells, Tessa Wood, Senior Voice & Communication Coach at City Academy, Wendy Miles QC, global head of arbitration at Boies, Schiller and Flexner, and expert accountant Liz Perks, partner at Haberman Ilett, answered questions posed by Kate Wilford, senior associate at Hogan Lovells.

Julianne began by explaining the genesis of the event. She had been struck by an article concerning women in President Barack Obama’s White House and the “amplification method” used by them in order to be heard, whereby when a woman spoke, a second woman would repeat the first woman’s comment. This led Julianne to question how women are “heard” in the arbitration community, in which statistically women remain under-represented.

This chimed with statistics provided by, Liz Perks, of a study on female quantum experts in International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) arbitrations. The study found that of a total of 176 named quantum experts in public ICSID awards, where damages were awarded (and therefore quantum experts had been used), only eight included the participation of female experts. Of these eight, three had been signed jointly with a male expert. This left only five expert reports signed solely by women. The numbers speak for themselves. Wendy Miles QC noted that in her time as an arbitrator, she had never heard from a female quantum expert.

As advocates, Wendy Miles QC noted that, “our tools are our words, our minds, and our voices”. The discussion focussed on how women can maximise their potential by not only finding their voices but ensuring that their voices are heard.

Tessa opened with some introductory remarks, explaining that one’s physicality is intimately connected to the quality of one’s voice. The “armour of tension”, in which people often unconsciously shroud themselves, can result in a higher pitch, which is anything but persuasive. This effect can be heightened in the case of women, who naturally tend to be smaller than men.

This can result in the following tendencies:

  • Not wanting to take up a lot of space vocally and therefore speaking too quickly.
  • Wishing to be “liked” with the result that one may smile more than necessary, which can have an effect on one’s tone.
  • Uplifting at the end of a sentence, resulting in a sense that the speaker is in constant questioning mode, uncertain of what she is saying or lacking in confidence.

These are, of course, not only particular to women, but they did resonate with the audience on the evening.

However, Tessa emphasised that one’s voice is like a fingerprint: you should not seek to change its essential quality, but rather improve and maximise its potential. Liz agreed that “authenticity” is key, perhaps more so for experts. So, while a woman should not necessarily seek to change the pitch of her voice from high to low à la Margaret Thatcher, weaknesses can be addressed. For example, speaking more slowly has a variety of benefits, including commanding attention.

The primary “secret” to enhancing one’s voice (male or female!) is breathing and breath. Tessa stated that,”breath is the power house of the voice”. As many will know but few actually do, it is essential to breathe from one’s diaphragm, not from one’s upper chest.

Rashda Rana SC, President of ArbitralWomen, stepped in with the age old advice concerning preparation: “The key is to know your story”. If you know your story inside out, you will necessarily be authentic and this will give you time to focus on delivery. Julianne agreed that the first step was “substance and being prepared – if you get this right, it is always going to be easier to present”.

Overall, the discussion was positive with a few female advocates expressing the view that they considered, as women, that they were more likely or just as likely to be heard. One barrister commented that, in fact, certain habits that are deemed to be particularly female are just part of the arsenal available to a woman as an advocate. It is a woman’s ability to adapt these tools that should actually put her at an advantage over men when communicating.

What was particularly striking about the event was the willingness and openness with which delegates, whatever their stature and age, shared their knowledge and experiences for the benefit of all.

The question remains: do we “fix” the women or do we “fix” the system? In truth, it’s a little of both. Wendy Miles QC urged all to spend time developing one’s voice. Julianne suggested that there is merit for sensitivity training on this issue in the profession, perhaps as part of unconscious bias training.

Hogan Lovells Practical Law Arbitration Julianne Hughes-Jennett Francesca Albert

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