Mirèze Philippe, Co-Founder of ArbitralWomen
The IBA Arb40 Subcommittee launched a competition to compile and publish poignant stories from this period, forming a distinctive compendium of shared experiences. Exploring the depths of the international arbitration community, the IBA Arb40 Common Heritage of International Arbitration Competition for the Most Meaningful Personal Stories unfolds a tapestry of diverse narratives.
Spanning the globe, these stories capture the human side of international arbitration, showcasing triumphs, challenges, and the interconnectedness that defines our professional journey. Each article in this collection offers a unique lens into our Common Heritage of International Arbitration, underscoring the significance of camaraderie, mentorship, and shared experiences within our global community.
The following article emerged victorious in the “Call for Diversity” category of the competition.
On International Women’s Day in 2019, Google displayed an inspiring slideshow with citations. One quote particularly resonated with me, as it ties in with efforts I undertook in the past 30 years. It is by Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian novel writer who said: “I matter. I matter equally. Not if only, not as long as. I matter. Full stop!”
In 1993, Louise Barrington was at an ICCA congress meeting. In a room of 250 people, she noticed that there was hardly a handful of women. She then organised a dinner in Paris to gather female practitioners. The 60 of us who were able to join realised that we all faced barriers. We agreed to remain connected and contact other female practitioners.
The next day, we received criticism – from both women and men. We were considered among others to be troublemakers. They believed the gathering was a “silly women’s thing.” So, I asked a person who was mocking us what was wrong with women gathering, cooperating, and developing their careers. His answer kept me speechless: “you women are in the position you belong, stay in your position, don’t disturb us.”
This was an eye-opener! We were not allowed at the table. If this was meant to discourage me, it was certainly a poor choice. I was not going to stay in a position to which men wanted me to belong: back-stage. It motivated me to create ArbitralWomen with Louise, to raise awareness about the dearth of women in dispute resolution, in lead positions, on tribunals, as speakers, and about the fact that talented female practitioners exist and should be offered equal opportunities as their male counterparts.
On one occasion, at a dispute resolution working group meeting, the chair of the meeting said in a room full of male and female lawyers: “can these ladies serve coffee!” Women present were shocked and did not move. A male colleague very kindly said: “no sir, I will serve coffee.” We were grateful for his elegant move. A few years later, my law professor invited me to contribute to a liber amicorum. At the remittance ceremony, my professor started his speech by praising my work. The meeting chair was a man who was upset that women were present. However, after hearing my professor’s praise, he stood up and started applauding me in a room packed with people.
Another time, I asked for an opportunity to present my research results on a dispute resolution topic. I was told that I needed to be a grey-headed man. Since the “door” was closed to me, I tried the “window” instead: I was not allowed to speak, so I published. Of course, this was no easy task for a woman in the 1990s.
Any initiative goes through three phases: during the first phase, the project is considered ridiculous; in the second phase, it is viewed as dangerous; and in the third phase, the project becomes obvious.
After having been considered ridiculous, founding ArbitralWomen was then considered dangerous – probably because we were competing with people who did not want to share the playing field, and because we encouraged every woman we met to join us. This generated continuous gossip about “these women.” Is discrimination an unconscious or conscious bias? I am convinced it is both.
At one point, I intended to publish data I had collected on the numbers of female arbitrators, but I was prevented from doing so. The numbers were alarming, and no one was willing to address the problem. However – yet again – I persevered, and in 2010, I started to publish the numbers. In 2013, I published a few more, and in 2015, I finally published a full-fledged statistical report on female arbitrators.
This has brought us to the third phase, where addressing the dearth of women in the field has become obvious in the eyes of our detractors. They considered that anyone can do it. Indeed, but it requires willingness, courage, resistance, and perseverance.
A few years ago, ArbitralWomen went through a difficult period—something that could happen to any organisation. A male arbitrator told me: “ArbitralWomen cannot succeed, you need a man on the Board”. I answered that the boards of directors of companies, organisations, and law firms have all gone through difficult times, and these happen to be mostly populated with men.
Looking back, it is rewarding to see that times have changed, and the door is opening to women – although the door is not yet completely open, and in some countries, it is not open at all. Continuing our efforts is essential, as we are far from reaching a complete equality.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mirèze Philippe is a French lawyer of French and Lebanese origin. She was Special Counsel at the Secretariat of the ICC International Court of Arbitration during 40 years until her retirement in 2023. She is a dispute resolution practitioner and has also been in the field of online dispute resolution since 2000. Mirèze is co-founder of ArbitralWomen and member of various organisations promoting gender equality. She received the CPR 2018 Diversity Award for outstanding contributions to diversity in ADR.
Her résumé and publications are available on ArbitralWomen website: https://www.arbitralwomen.org/member/#/1325/mir%C3%A8ze-philippe
This article was first published on the website of the Arbitration Committee of the Legal Practice Division of the International Bar Association, and is reproduced by kind permission of the International Bar Association, London, UK. © International Bar Association.
Available at: https://www.ibanet.org/Arb40-Competition