REUTERS | David Mdzinarishvili

What is the future for women in arbitration?

A common discussion held at seminars and working groups is whether there needs to be greater positive discrimination in favour of women in arbitration. Invariably, the discussions result in no definitive answer.

There are both positives and negatives, for both sides of the debate. An analysis undertaken by Lucy Greenwood found that institutional appointments of female arbitrators increased by over a third, from 12% in 2015 to 17% in 2016. This was heralded by numerous observers as demonstrating a positive shift from the trend. However, the rise is misleadingly positive, due to the low starting point.

The Equal Representation in Arbitration Pledge

The launch of the Pledge in 2016 was intended to create a renewed impetus for change in the diversity of arbitration, and to ensure that the issue became a mainstream one.

The Pledge arose out of statistics, such as the fact that 16% of London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) appointed arbitrators were women, or the fact that two out of 37 of the Chambers and Partners’ 2015 list of “Most in Demand Arbitrators” globally were women. At its launch event, Sylvia Noury, partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and co-chair stated that:

“The objective is equal opportunity for equally qualified women. This will benefit the entire community, not just us ladies. Until we draw on the pool of quality that exists among our top women, we are in fact diluting the excellence in our arbitral system”.

The Pledge is therefore a call to arms for the arbitration community as a whole, so as to improve the profile of women in arbitration with a view to securing the appointment of more women as arbitrators on an equal basis.

I attended the Women in Arbitration event, at Norton Rose Fulbright, in collaboration with the Pledge in February 2018. The main takeaway from the event was that there remains a significant amount of work required in order to ensure that there is greater equality in arbitrator appointments across the world.

Celebration of women events

This resulted in my thinking about why there is such a contrast between male and female arbitrators, and how the change comes about. Is it simply going to be an age-old adage, that women will be outnumbered in arbitration because some women leave the legal profession in order to have families?

As a young female lawyer, I have personally witnessed a change in approach towards women generally, and specifically in the legal profession. From celebrating International Women’s Day to 100 years since landed women over 30 years of age obtained the right to vote in general elections, and the #metoo campaign, will change be reflected in arbitration?

The “girl power” generation

Looking generally at the statistics of the gender differences, in 2015, the United Nations estimated that for every 101.8 men, there are 100 women. In 2016-2017, of 17,855 UK students accepted onto a law course, 67.5% were women, 32.5% were male. In the year that ended 31 July 2016, 61.5% of solicitors added to the roll were women; 38.5% were male. In relation to the roll as a whole, 50.2% are women and 49.8% are men.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) assessed the diversity of law firms by analysing the Labour Force Survey 2015. The SRA found that women make up 48% of all lawyers in law firms, in contrast to women making up 47% of the UK workforce as a whole. For 2017, women made up 59% of non-partners compared to 33% of partners. In the largest firms (where there were more than 50 partners), 29% of partners were female. However, there is a greater proportion of female lawyers in mid-size firms; women make up 54% of all lawyers in firms with fewer than 50 partners.

On 26 January 2018, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) reported that men outnumber women by 62.8% to 37% at the practising Bar, although the percentage of women increased overall by 0.5% during 2017. However, there is a greater proportion of female pupils (51.7%) to male pupils (48.3%); in fact, the proportion of female pupils increased by 0.4% from 2017.

The statistics clearly demonstrate a shift in the gender balance of the legal profession, with junior lawyers who grew up in the decade influenced by “girl power” and women “running the world” pushing that trend.

What will the future hold?

As the statistics show, there is a shift in the gender balance. If there is no change over the next ten years, it will only beg the question about why is there such an almighty drop-off.

At present, the UK birth rate is dropping, which means that there are women across the country who are not having children. If that continues, and women continue to be disproportionately represented across different sectors, including arbitration, the outstanding question can only be: why?

That being said, to end on an optimistic note, just as the number of matters being arbitrated have changed over the past decade, so too will the dynamic of arbitration.

As the statistics demonstrate, a new generation of women is entering the legal profession. This will inevitably have a knock-on effect on arbitration. Change will not be instantaneous; my generation of lawyers, and the generations of lawyers behind me, need years of practice to gain the experience and understanding required of arbitrators.

As an old advertising campaign stated, “the future is bright”, but it will take work on the part of individual female lawyers. Female lawyers will by no means automatically become arbitrators simply because of their gender. Nor in my opinion, should they. However, we should remain positive about the generational changes that are evolving for women in arbitration.

King & Spalding Emma Walker

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share this post on: