CIArb News

CIArb holds its first ever Virtual Congress Conference

12 Nov 2020

Congress is a vital part of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) calendar and is mandated to be held biennially. It provides the important function of a forum for CIArb members to hear directly from the Executive about our future plans and give feedback on what they think CIArb’s priorities should be. This year, the formal Congress was supplemented by the Congress Conference held virtually on Wednesday 11 November 2020, consisting of a series of panel discussions, presentations from the CIArb leadership, and Q&A sessions with audience members from around the globe. This was devised both as a solution to the restrictions we’re facing due to COVID-19, and as an innovative way of providing in-depth insights on CIArb’s activities for a wider audience.

It did not disappoint. We reached over 2000 people across the course of the day, and the feedback for all of the sessions has been fantastic. It is yet another example of CIArb not only coping with the pandemic but finding new and inventive ways to actually improve our engagement with the membership.

Celebrating success and planning for the future

The day opened with a ‘Meet the Leaders’ session with Marion Smith QC FCIArb (Deputy Chair of the Board of Trustees), Jonathan Wood FCIArb (Chair of the Board of Trustees), Catherine Dixon (Director-General) and Francis Xavier SC PBM C.Arb FCIArb (President) . Our leadership team provided a recap of what has been an extraordinary year for the profession and celebrated some of the major successes that have been achieved in that time. We heard about our achievements from the number of CIArb members (which has recently surpassed 17,500), the success with which we’ve moved our training courses online (including the recently delivered Mediation Course), our pivotal role in delivering the Virtual Arbitrations initiative in May, and our ceaseless development of best practice guidance for alternative dispute resolution (ADR) professionals (including the ‘Remote Hearings’ guidance note launched at the very start of the pandemic).

The team also highlighted some of the awards that have been won over the last year, including ‘Best Innovation’ and ‘Best Lecture’ at the GAR Awards (respectively for the Witness Conferencing Guidelines and Stavros Brekoulakis’ 2019 Roebuck Lecture), and our recent achievement of Investors in People accreditation; a great testament to the work of the CIArb People Team in what has been a challenging year.

Next, the CIArb leaders gave an overview of their plans for the institute as we look ahead to 2021 and beyond. Catherine Dixon referred to the three new strategic aims which are currently being finalized; to globally promote the constructive resolution of disputes, to be an inclusive thought leader, and to develop and support an inclusive global community of diverse dispute resolvers. Members were invited to contact Catherine directly with any questions they have, and to contribute their ideas on how these ambitions can best be fulfilled – it is on the expertise and insight of our community of members that CIArb’s success ultimately rests.

Diversity in ADR: Beyond the Mission Statement

Following a number of breakout panel sessions throughout the day covering several different themes, the Congress Conference closed with a panel session on how we can better promote diversity and inclusion within the ADR profession. Entitled ‘Diversity in ADR: Beyond the Mission Statement’, the session aimed to get beyond a vague restatement of the problem or a general commitment to tackle it, and instead explore practical ways in which the issues can be properly identified and improved. The session Chair Lewis Johnston ACIArb (CIArb Head of Policy and External Affairs) was joined by Ania Farren MCIArb (Partner, Omnia Strategy), Caroline Croft (Associate, Squire Patton Boggs), Mahnaz Malik (Barrister and Arbitrator, Twenty Essex), and Nasir Khan FCIArb (Director, Currie & Brown).

The discussion opened with a question on the session’s central theme: how can we move ‘beyond the mission statement’ for diversity and inclusion with meaningful, practical actions? Speaking first, Ania Farren drew on her experience as founder of Equal Representation in Arbitration, an initiative to attain gender parity in arbitration. In Ania’s view the key lies in securing a commitment to diversity and inclusion at all levels of an organisation, particularly with management. In the context of gender equality, Ania highlighted how too often the focus has been on how women need to adapt in order to secure more opportunities, rather than on how organisations themselves need to change so that they remove the existing barriers to progress that women continue to face. It was noted that this principle also applies to other under-represented groups and isn’t limited to gender. The other panelists also emphasised that to be effective, any efforts to improve diversity need to be evidence-led and holistic, taking into account the multiple ways in which individuals may be identified.

Next, the discussion turned to practical examples of what initiatives have been successful in promoting diversity and inclusion. Mahnaz Malik highlighted the importance of challenging stereotypes and allowing role models to flourish and provide an example of how under-represented groups can succeed (primarily by challenging assumptions around ‘what an arbitrator looks like’). However, it was recognised that bringing about such culture change is very difficult and requires sustained effort, not a one-off blitz. Nasir Khan FCIArb drew on is experiences with the ‘Muslims in Rail’ group to emphasise the value of effective mentoring, and the importance of creating ‘EDI Councils’ to ensure there is sustained accountability for sticking to principles of diversity and inclusion at the highest levels of decision making. Caroline Croft also drew attention to the need for comprehensive, reliable data in order to first identify the key issues, and then take credible action to address them. In essence, you cannot fix a problem unless you have a very good understanding of what it is, and you cannot make progress without a benchmark against which to measure it.

The discussion was an illuminating end to an extremely successful day. It encapsulated the spirit of open communication with CIArb members in pursuit of our strategic objectives, and this engagement will continue in the months and years ahead.

Clockwise from top left: Catherine Dixon (Director-General), Francis Xavier SC PBM C.Arb FCIArb (President), Jonathan Wood FCIArb (Chair of the Board of Trustees), and Marion Smith QC FCIArb (Deputy Chair of the Board of Trustees).

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