Gender Diversity in International Arbitration

Women In Law Edition 21'



Stefanie G. Efstathiou

Several initiatives, task forces and groups, such as Google’s #IamRemarkable campaign, the ICCA Gender Diversity in Arbitration Task Force and many more, highlight the fact that there is still a great deficit in gender balance when it comes to choosing an arbitrator, a counsel and a partner in a law firm.

Being raised in a family of empowered women, my goal in life was always to strive for the best and not let my gender define my decisions or my place in the world. By getting involved in Google’s #IamRemarkable program, I understood that some women struggle with owning their story, promoting their achievements, and of course, using their personal branding for a promotion and/or a better job offer.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to the Cross-Institutional Task Force on Gender Diversity in Arbitral Appointments and Proceedings with data assembled in 2019, gender diversity in arbitral tribunals is increasing, with the number of female arbitrators appointed to tribunals doubling in the past four years. However, this means that women comprised just over 21% of arbitrator appointees, making it very clear that there is room for improvement. The task force notes that “the greatest opportunity for such improvement lies with parties and the counsel that represent them, noting that while 34% of institutional appointments and 21.5% of co-arbitrator appointments were female in 2019, only 13.9% of party-appointments were female”. Furthermore, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Working Group III on ISDS Reform shows in a study that the diversity deficit is especially noteworthy in Investment Arbitration. This is evident since nearly all of the most prominent and repeatedly appointed arbitrators in ISDS cases are men from the western world with significant prior experience in such cases. By continuing under this basis, nothing will ever change, but that change needs to happen now.

Some great examples have been set over the past years with numerous initiatives such as Arbitral Women, the women-only Mute-Off Thursdays, the Equal Representation in Arbitration (ERA) and many more, but we are still far from reaching our goal. And this is true although gender diversity is a valid concern, as many researches have shown. Women communicate, think, feel, perceive, react, respond and appreciate differently than men and that often makes the difference when a fair and balanced decision is needed. Therefore, one thing is certain: the future is bright and female.