ARBITRALWOMEN: An interview with three of its board members
We are delighted to introduce ArbitralWomen (AW) in this interview with its Co-Founder and Board Member, Louise Barrington (LB), and Board Members, Mary Thomson (MT) and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Chan (EC).
1. What is AW and when/where was it launched elsewhere and in Asia-Pacific? How many members are there?
LB: ArbitralWomen is an international organisation dedicated to the promotion of professional women in the field of arbitration and ADR. The group originated in 1993 as a result of a chain-letter survey sent out to about ten women I had met at my very first international arbitration conference, in Bahrain. The 80-plus responses formed my first database (then known as a list) of women in the field of ADR and provided the material for the report I wrote that year.
A report that showed clearly that arbitration was indeed dominated by an old boys’ club of Europeans and a few American starets. Women were conspicuous by their absence. Soon after, my ICC colleague, Mirèze Philippe (my co-Founder of AW), and I invited everyone to a dinner in Paris on the eve of an ICC conference. We were overwhelmed by the response of 60 talented women from over 20 countries.
Next, Geoffrey Beresford-Hartwell, then President of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, invited me to present my paper at the Institute’s conference in Boston, where to my amazement, it found a receptive and enthusiastic audience. It was a novel and somewhat exotic idea – to have women doing arbitration.
My gaps in internet-savvy skills were more than compensated by the IT skills of Mirèze. A Yahoo chat group was born as a site for the exchange of news, views and advice for any woman who cared to participate.
Some years later, a dozen of us formed a non-profit association in France and held an inaugural General Meeting in Montreal, with the thought that together we might be better heard in our quest to get more women to the arbitration tables.
As founding co-presidents, Mirèze and I had to beg women to join the group. Some feared that joining our group of “radical bra-burning feminist revolutionaries” would jeopardise their career possibilities; others took the rather dim view that, “If I’ve made it through my talent and hard work, so can all the others.”
Today, ArbitralWomen is recognised around the world as a pioneer in breaking the glass ceiling, getting women to the counsel tables and tribunals, and fostering diversity, not only in terms of gender, but also for all the other diverse groups clamouring for admission.
With over 1000 members in 40 countries, including many corporate memberships, ArbitralWomen has gone from strength to strength. No more begging for new members; what was once a hard sell is now the logical way to go.
2. What are the objectives of AW?
LB: The objectives are quite simply, to give women the same opportunities and support that men have always taken for granted: recognition, respect, encouragement, mentoring, promotion and equal opportunities for success. With those goals in mind, AW members have initiated many projects and events to encourage women to develop professionally without sacrificing our family values.
3. How did you get involved on the Board/committee of AW and what is your role?
LB: As founding co-presidents, for several years Mirèze and I shared the work, supported by the other founding board members.
As more young, talented and enthusiastic women were elected to the Board, we were able to pass on the presidency but remained on the board. Today, to a large extent we have both stepped back from the scores of established and new projects, each of which is now led by an elected board member. But we both remain engaged and ready to offer help and advice.
MT: This is my second time being on the Board, I had a break for a few years. My main role is in Educational Funding and a lesser role in the Newsletter Committee. We receive a large number of requests for financial assistance from teams at law schools around the world to compete at major arbitration moots, in particular Willem C. Vis International Commercial Moot in Vienna and Vis East Moots in Hong Kong. One of the criteria they have to meet is that the team must be made up of at least 50% ladies.
EC: I was a member of AW for several years before standing for my first term on the Board in 2020. I was lucky to have not one, but two, mentors through AW, and I wanted to contribute back to the community.
In my second term on the Board from 2022, I continued the roles I held in the previous term, as ArbitralWomen Connect Founder, Young ArbitralWomen Practitioners (YAWP) Director, and as a member of the Social Media Committee.
4. How can young women in dispute resolution get involved? What about aspiring arbitrators?
EC: All AW members who are under 40 are automatically members of YAWP. So it’s easy to join: just become an AW member! Any woman working in the field of dispute resolution is eligible to join.
Aspiring arbitrators of all ages are also welcome to join AW and YAWP. I would also flag that there are other organisations specifically targeted at supporting aspiring arbitrators, including the Equal Representation in Arbitration Pledge and the Rising Arbitrators Initiative.
5. What initiatives have you implemented in Hong Kong and APAC?
LB: Over the years AW has held many seminars on diversity, on women’s role in the field of ADR, and panels on specific subject matter – construction, IP, finance – and on arbitration practice (award writing, costs, arbitrator liability). The events all feature at least one AW speaker. Generally to receive AW support, event organisers must demonstrate that there are equal numbers of women and men speaking on the panel.
We also hold regular (until the COVID-19 pandemic) networking sessions, either our trademark ArbitralWomen SpeedNet, or informal lunches or dinners when AW from other jurisdictions are in town.
This year, AW is funding the Vis East Moot Capacity Building Programme (CBP), a ten-day intensive course in international commercial law, arbitration and the UN Convention on the International Sale of Goods (CISG). Past CBPs include three visits to Cambodia and three to Myanmar. Both places now have dozens of young lawyers and business people who are familiar with the CISG and with arbitration procedure.
Recently we resumed our presentations of the AW Diversity Toolkit (Toolkit), a day-long training programme for people of either gender who are interested in increasing diversity in their own personal and business environments. After a successful re-launch in Singapore, Hong Kong is next on the list, in Q2 of 2023, and several other Toolkits are in the pipe for Europe, the Middle East, Canada and – our newest frontier – Africa.
With my other “hat” on, as founder and director of the Vis East Arbitration Moot in Hong Kong, I knew that AW could help young women to participate and gain the educational, social and advantages offered by the Moot. Today, any needy team composed of at least 50% women can apply to AW for an ArbitralWomen Award which pays the Moot registration fee for the team. More than one school has added an “extra” woman to its team in order to qualify for the award. Today, Vis and Vis East teams that do not have at least equal numbers of men and women are indeed a rarity.
EC: YAWP is and continues to be very active in Asia. For example, we’ve hosted:
- In Hong Kong: drinks over Christmas themed snacks last year last year, as well as a pilates + breakfast event as part of HK Arbitration Week this year;
- In Singapore: organised a supper club featuring Chiann Bao as our guest, as well as a successful “Black and Pink” party in Singapore this year;
- In India: organised “Local Chatter” events in India featuring local practitioners and arbitrators this year; and
- Virtually: We have also organised many virtual events accessible by our members in APAC, including training workshops on damages and other expert topics, and also careers panels in Mandarin language.
AW is also a supporter of Arbitration Lunch Match in global locations, including Hong Kong and Singapore. This is an initiative bringing women in arbitration together for an intimate lunch in their home jurisdiction. The twist is that you don’t know whom you’ll lunch with until you turn up!
6. What is the most rewarding thing you have felt through your participation in AW?
EC: Being part of the ArbitralWomen Board has been hugely rewarding – I have met such incredible women through the organisation, many of whom have become mentors and friends. I would say the same about both of the YAWP Steering Committees I’ve been lucky to be part of – many have fast become friends.
7. You have male allies for AW as members are women only, what would you like to achieve via this medium and are you searching for more male allies? If so, how?
LB: Diversity needs the support of the “in group” – the group perceived to be the powerful, the popular and the successful ones. In the field of arbitration, this group has been a coterie of older Caucasian gentlemen – also known as the boys’ club or the arbitration mafia. By enlisting the help of these influential and often very generous men, diverse groups can “move the needle” in the direction of diversity and inclusion. Men are NOT the enemy; allies are those who understand and share our goals, and who are willing to go the extra mile to help us achieve them. We love our allies and we can never have enough of them!
MT: Diversity and inclusiveness is not just for females, they are for all. I would like to encourage corporations and institutions and males to get more involved especially in our Diversity Toolkit workshops as there truly is a business case for diversity. There is little point in simply training those already converted, it is the sceptics we need to win over.
8. Are there any upcoming initiatives/events that you are planning?
EC: Yes, we organise many events throughout the year, and the best place to find out about them are:
ArbitralWomen’s LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/showcase/yawp---young-arbitralwomen-practitioners-/.
We also have a calendar of events featuring events organised or supported by ArbitralWomen, as well as events featuring ArbitralWomen members: www.arbitralwomen.org/aw-events/#/.
We seek to promote gender diversity through our policy for non-financial sponsorship, which generally requires there to be gender parity among speakers and other demonstration of gender diversity (unless there are exceptional circumstances why parity or similar cannot be achieved).
9. What are the top tips you would recommend to lawyers/students who wish to pursue a career in arbitration? What do they stand to gain by joining?
LB: Do a great job at the Vis or Vis East Moot, and keep in touch with the precious contacts you will make there. Join AW as soon as you get your first ADR-related job.
Join ArbitralWomen. Details about how to join as an individual member are here: www.arbitralwomen.org/product-individual-membership/. Corporate membership is also available, with more details here: www.arbitralwomen.org/product-individual-membership/.
- Use the Profiles section of the AW website (www.arbitralwomen.org) to find other members in your area. Send them an invitation to meet for a drink after work.
- Speak together about their concerns and yours. Organise an event: networking? Something timely and specific?
- When you travel, find the AW members in your destination city and suggest an informal meeting after your work or conference
- Participate in a Toolkit, and become a trainer to help spread the message in your area
- Participate in YAWP (see above) or one of the AW Mentoring groups
- Attend AW events (or those supported by AW) and get the women together
- Write a report for the AW Newsletter about a conference, an event or other topic of interest
- Interview interesting AW for the Newsletter (you get to know the more senior ones)
- Be present and active on social media and LIKE ArbitralWomen messages and those from other AW
- Recommend other AW as experts/speakers if your firm or professional organisation is holding a panel. Call out (politely but firmly) organisers of all-male or 80% male panels
- Be creative and think of ways you can increase your own profile and that of other AW. They will do the same for you!
- Sign up for our ArbitralWomen mentoring programme to get a mentor who can help guide you in your career and answer your burning questions
- Join our YAWP training workshops to upskill yourself on arbitration skills and know-how
- For those interested in becoming parents or who are interested in parental-related issues generally, the ArbitralWomen Parental Discussion Forum offers a fantastic network of support.
10. What is the importance of networking in career building?
LB: Primordial. If you don’t like boasting about yourself, boast about your AW colleagues. They will return the favour and you both win.
MT: It is essential to have the requisite technical skills in your chosen career. And if you have chosen a career in the law and/or arbitration, soft skills including networking could mean the difference between success and failure.
Annie/Star Anise: I would like to thank Louise, Mary and Lizzie for their valuable time in contributing to this article to discuss the roots and growth of this amazing global network of women in the arbitration field.
From a recruitment perspective, it cannot be emphasised enough about the importance of networking as part of career building/profiling. Clearly, AW provides an excellent platform of external networking opportunities and events. Networking externally can also build your market reputation as a leader in one’s particular field and/or jurisdiction and for increasing business opportunities and/or career potentials. Furthermore, networking internally is equally as important since it is also vital to be recognised internally for promotion/advancement opportunities.
In addition, having a network of like-minded people who can act as your informal mentors and friends goes a long way in being able to share ideas and allows you to see things from other peoples’ perspectives and to enhance your learning.
Through the hard work of Louise, Mary and Lizzie and other board members of AW, it is clear that joining this network provides lots of global networking/learning opportunities for women in the arbitration field.