17 Jan 2022

Herbert Smith Freehills CEO to co-chair global campaign to boost number of women arbitrators

Diversity and inclusion champion Justin D’Agostino takes leading role at the Pledge as signatories near 5,000

Headshot of Justin D’Agostino

Justin D’Agostino

Herbert Smith Freehills’ (HSF’s) chief executive, Justin D’Agostino, has agreed to help lead an international initiative’s drive to increase the proportion of women appointed as arbitrators.
 
D’Agostino is taking over from senior BP in-house lawyer Samantha Bakstad as co-chair of the Equal Representation in Arbitration Pledge steering committee, working alongside founder and co-chair Sylvia Noury QC, head of Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer’s London international arbitration team.
 
HSF has also agreed to commit consultant Brianna Young, one of the architects of Hong Kong’s recently proposed reforms to allow litigation funding, to act as the Pledge’s secretary during the incumbent’s maternity leave.
 
Founded in 2016, the Pledge has nearly 5,000 signatories and is backed by an array of top law firms, companies and arbitral institutions. Its goal is to increase the proportion of women appointed as arbitrators until full parity is reached. 
 
The group points to progress in meeting its goal, including data from the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) that showed women accounted for 31% of appointments to tribunals, ad hoc committees and conciliation panels in the 2021 financial year, compared to 14% the previous year.
 
And last June, former Latham & Watkins partner Claudia Salomon was elected as the first woman president of ICC Court of Arbitration (ICC), a the Pledge signatory, in its almost 100-year history. 
 
“It has been fabulous to see so much progress on gender diversity in arbitration...,” said D’Agostino, “largely as a direct result of this initiative.”
 
D’Agostino is a long-term supporter of the Pledge having backed the initiative from the outset, when he was HSF’s global head of disputes. One of the only openly gay leaders of a major law firm, he is widely recognised for his championing of diversity and inclusion, both within HSF and in the wider legal community. 
 
The appointment of such a senior figure to help lead the Pledge was welcomed by senior members of the arbitration community. 
 
Robert Stephen, registrar of the LCIA-DIFC Arbitration Centre, described D’Agostino as “a true global leader in diversity and inclusion”, adding that his appointment was “testament to the increasing importance that major law firms and the wider arbitration community puts on attaining fully equal representation of women in arbitration”.
 
Chiann Bao, vice president of the ICC and a member of Arbitration Chambers in Singapore, added: “As a long-time champion of diversity initiatives, Justin's appointment signals the across-the-board support necessary to sustain, and indeed strengthen, equal representation for women in arbitration.”
 
As HSF’s CEO, D’Agostino has launched a series of diversity initiatives, including setting targets to improve ethnic diversity as part of an action plan unveiled in September 2020 and the establishment of a People & Culture Advisory Board
 
Paula Hodges QC, HSF’s global head of arbitration, said: “I am delighted that the focus on gender diversity continues to gather pace in the arbitral community, particularly since the introduction of the Pledge. We are very proud that Justin and Briana are actively involved in supporting the Pledge."
 
Bakstad, meanwhile, will continue to lead the corporate sub-committee she set up in 2019, which includes representatives from companies including Barclays, Chevron and Airbus as well as a number of litigation funders.
 
In May last year, the ICC celebrated the fifth anniversary of its signing of the Pledge by reporting that the number of appointments of women arbitrators in ICC-administered cases continued to rise from 312 in 2019 to 355 in 2020, representing 23% of all confirmations or appointments, up from 21.1% in 2019.

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