SCC Forecast: Can we spike the diversity curve?

A rapid pace of innovation is the ultimate competitive advantage in today's business world. For example, during Covid, the community adopted to new technology quickly. However, when it comes to diversity in the arbitration industry, change is slow and gradual. Can we speed it up?

The SCC has just released a report on arbitrator diversity, which looks at 1250 arbitrator appointments in SCC cases over a five-year period. The idea behind the review was to look at diversity from several angles: who is appointed, how often, by whom, to what role and in what type of case? In addition to taking a deep dive into gender diversity, we also looked at arbitrator nationality and age, and examined the rate of repeat appointments.

Some of our findings were unexpected, even to us. For example, that parties in international cases very often appoint Swedish arbitrators, and that high numbers of repeat appointments are surprisingly rare. Other findings were as expected as they are disheartening: Female arbitrators still receive only a small minority of all arbitrator appointments, and are typically appointed in lower-value cases.

The idea behind the report was to better understand diversity trends and statistical drivers, share this information widely, and—importantly and optimistically—to effect some kind of change.

If there is one thing that we have learned from the ongoing pandemic, it is that fast change is possible. In 2020, we all saw and experienced transformational change, both on a global scale and within the arbitration industry. The most obvious example is how quickly we all got used to using technology in new ways. As an earlier SCC report showed, attitudes toward online arbitration hearings changed enormously over the past 12 months, and many arbitration practitioners see the transition to virtual as a permanent shift. The pandemic was simply a catalyst for change.

Yet when it comes to diversity, we all seem to agree and accept that change will necessarily be incremental over time. We compare percentages and celebrate the small increases. Yes, more women are appointed today than five years ago. But the diversity numbers are still low, and do not reflect the society which we all work to serve.

Today, business transactions connect people across the borders and languages. Some of the most successful companies are run by young people. And in Sweden, women have held more than 40 percent of seats in parliament since 1994. It is a diverse world we operate in. So why is the majority of appointed arbitrators still Western men in their mid-50s?

Do we have to accept that when it comes to diversity in the arbitration industry, change is slow and gradual? After all, we learned the whole technology thing fairly quickly when we needed to, didn’t we? Maybe a similar shift is possible for diversity. Maybe it is possible to change mindsets and eradicate unconscious bias so quickly that when the time comes for the next SCC diversity report, we will see exponential increases and spiked curves.

To increase the rate of change, more of us need to do more. Law firms must figure out once and for all how to diversify their partnership ranks. Arbitration users need to demand diversity from counsel and institutions. The SCC is trying to do its part, not only by talking endlessly about diversity, but also by appointing diverse arbitrators whenever possible. The report shows that among the 25 arbitrators most frequently appointed by the SCC, 10 were women and 15 were younger than 45. But parties appoint two-thirds of all arbitrators, and they are less inclined toward diversity.

We all need to do more, faster, to kick diversity into the next gear. This year we have seen that change can happen fast. So how about, while we are all doing our part in trying to “flattening the curve” in the context of the pandemic, we all agree to do our part in “spiking the curve” when it comes to diversity?

Lise Alm, Head of Business Development


Read the SCC Diversity Report >>

Read SCC Forecast - finding our cruising speed? >> 

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