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The ERA Pledge surpasses 4,000 signatories

The Equal Representation in Arbitration Pledge (the ERA Pledge), launched in 2016 to address the under-representation of women on international arbitration tribunals, recently surpassed a milestone 4,000 signatories in January 2020. The past year has also seen the launch of the Corporate and Africa Pledge subcommittees (which now sit alongside the very successful Latin America and India subcommittees), and the First Pledge Award presented at the 2019 GAR Awards in Paris.

The ERA Pledge has two main objectives:

  • First, it aims to improve the profile and representation of women in international arbitration.
  • Second, it seeks the appointment of women as arbitrators on an equal opportunity basis.

Breakdown of ERA Pledge signatories

As of 1 May 2020, the ERA Pledge has received an impressive 4,175 signatories, comprising 3,393 individuals and 782 organisations from 113 different countries.

As shown in the graphic above, perhaps not unsurprisingly, the majority of organisation signatories are law firms and barristers’ chambers. The majority of arbitral institutions have also now signed the Pledge, comprising 18% of the overall organisation signatories. At the other end of the spectrum, the party users of arbitration have been slower to sign up to the Pledge. Corporates make up only 7% of organisation signatories, although this has increased from 4% in 2018. Recent corporate signatories include Anglo American, Airbus, Chevron and Union Bank plc. State signatories include Canada, Egypt, India and Malaysia.

The global spread of the ERA Pledge is one of its key strengths. While the highest number of individual signatories are from Europe, the spread of signatories from other continents is also encouraging. There are Pledge subcommittees focussed on Latin America and Africa, which have been successful in raising awareness of the Pledge in these regions. Over the last two years, for example, the proportion of African signatories has increased by 9%. Given the success of these regional subcommittees, the Pledge Steering Committee is in the process of setting up further subcommittees in Asia and Australasia, and the Middle East.

New global steering committee

The ERA Pledge was delighted to welcome its new steering committee members following a refresh shortly after the third anniversary of the Pledge in May 2019. The new steering committee members were appointed for a three year term, to bring new ideas to break down the barriers to the fair representation of women in arbitration. A full list of the steering committee members, including those who have stayed on from the previous steering committee, is available on the ERA Pledge website.

As part of the refresh, Samantha Bakstad, legal counsel at BP, replaced Wendy Miles QC as co-chair of the steering committee, alongside Sylvia Noury, as part of a new rotating co-chair arrangement that will allow the Pledge to focus on key themes or regions. Samantha’s appointment reflects the current priority focusing on corporates.

Launch of two new subcommittees

Corporate

Although the Pledge has enjoyed considerable success since its launch in 2016, as at May 2019, only 4% of organisations that had signed the Pledge were corporates. This low figure, together with the poor statistics for party appointments of female arbitrators recorded in 2018, indicated a need for increased engagement of the Pledge with corporate users of arbitration. The Corporate subcommittee (CSC) was launched in September 2019 to help promote the Pledge and raise the profile of female arbitrators among corporates. The CSC is made up of representatives of the following corporates: Aecom, Airbus, Anglo American, Barclays, Bentham IMF, BP, Burford Capital, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Coty, Enel, Standard Chartered, Total, Vannin Capital, Veolia and Shell. The CSC is taking forward various action points, including:

  • Developing corporate guidelines on how to implement the Pledge within an organisation.
  • Organising “meet the female arbitrator” events to introduce in-house counsel involved in arbitrator appointments to female arbitrators.

The first of these events took place in London on 4 February 2020, aimed at the energy and infrastructure sectors.

Africa

After the resounding success of the Pledge in Nigeria, overseen by Doyin Rhodes-Vivour, it was decided that the Pledge should try to engage the wider arbitration community across the continent to help promote the Pledge and raise the profile of female African arbitration practitioners more generally. Thus, the Africa subcommittee was launched in November 2019. Co-chaired by Doyin Rhodes-Vivour and Amani Khalifa, the Africa subcommittee is made up of 24 African arbitration practitioners, spanning 16 jurisdictions.

The newly constituted Corporate and Africa subcommittees now sit alongside the existing Latin America and India subcommittees. A full list of all subcommittees and members can be found on the ERA website. Further regional subcommittees are also in the process of being set up to focus on the Middle East, and Asia and Australasia, as well as a new subcommittee aimed at younger practitioners.

First Pledge award

2019 also saw the inaugural Pledge Award presented at the GAR Awards ceremony. The Pledge Award is intended to recognise and reward outstanding efforts with respect to gender diversity in international arbitration. Nominations are put forward to the Pledge team and voted upon by the Global Arbitration Review (GAR) readership. The 2019 winner was the Equity Project, an initiative led by Burford Capital to promote women in the law. Voting for the 2020 Pledge Award has now closed and the winner will be announced at the GAR Awards ceremony, which has been postponed to 9 July 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Strides towards gender parity

The ERA Pledge, along with other similar initiatives such as Arbitral Women, have had a significant impact on gender diversity in arbitration. Importantly, many arbitral institutions now publish their statistics on female arbitrator appointments (one of the measures arbitral institutions commit to when they sign the Pledge), and several institutions now address diversity in arbitrator appointments in their annual reports and policy papers.

Prior to the launch of the Pledge, in 2015, it was estimated that only around 10% of arbitrator appointments (appointed by parties and institutions combined) at the major arbitral institutions were women. Since 2015, this figure has steadily increased to an average of 21% in 2018. It is hoped that the 2019 statistics will show further progress when they are published shortly.

Next steps

The ERA Pledge recently experienced a new surge of energy and enthusiasm with the refresh of the Global Steering Committee, and the launch of the newest subcommittees, bringing new ideas to continue to take the Pledge from strength to strength. For example, one of the main objectives of the Africa subcommittee is to liaise with African arbitration institutions to encourage them to sign up and commit to the Pledge. This has already borne fruit, with the Casablanca International Mediation and Arbitration Centre very recently becoming the latest African arbitral institution to sign up to the Pledge. But the Pledge’s work is not done. It is important that those who have signed up to take the Pledge continue to “live the Pledge” everyday. Examples of this could be by mentoring a female arbitration practitioner, ensuring that conferences have a fair representation of female speakers, and ensuring lists of arbitrator candidates include a fair selection of women.

The Pledge has indeed come a long way (and is proud of its success), but there is still work to be done, working with signatories both old and new, towards achieving its ultimate goal of gender parity. The ERA Pledge looks forward to working with its members, and members of other similar initiatives, in advancing this shared goal.

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