Over the last 10 years, conversation has turned to a serious consideration of diversity in international arbitration. In this context, it has been submitted that a multiplicity of views is fundamental for a fair process and outcome. It has been further posited that widening the pool of arbitrators gives greater choice and fewer conflicts, removes the imbalance of interpretations between different parties and encourages greater efficiency, as well as facilitating new perspectives.

In summary, a lack of diversity affects the quality of arbitral proceedings, in general, and of arbitral awards, in particular. In recent years, minorities and women organised and formed associations to attain a louder voice. A flurry of papers, interviews and surveys started to discuss the need for increased diversity. All agreed on the above: diversity in international arbitration was not only important, it was essential to the legitimacy of the process. They also acknowledged that, for decades, international arbitration was a closed community, some sort of “pale, male and stale” western gentlemen’s private club.

Many then argued that progress had been made in recent years, with international arbitration institutions leading the charge and groups such as ArbitralWomen rising to prominence. So, when the majority of the protagonists agree on the importance of diversity, it is often difficult to understand why true diversity is so hard to achieve. Why, despite women entering the legal field at record rates, is the number of women in equity partnerships at law firms or arbitral tribunals continuing to lag behind. Why are arbitral panels at various institutions painfully “pale, male and stale”? Headlines still highlight racial, gender or social bias in international arbitration. In a counterintuitive way, it is comforting to see that diversity still makes the headlines but still, it is far from an outstanding advertisement for the arbitration process, at a time when it comes under fire in many jurisdictions. So where does it leave us?

Jul-Sep 2019 issue

BVI International Arbitration Centre