Moving on from ‘manels’: World’s largest business organisation commits to greater gender balance at international conferences

  • 17 October 2018

At an event at ICC headquarters today in Paris, ICC Secretary General John W.H. Denton AO committed the organisation to greater diversity at external and ICC-organised events.

Organised by World Business Women—an initiative led by ICC staff to bring the benefits of gender diversity and balance to the world business organization—the event saw ICC’s leadership team publicly sign a pledge to increase gender diversity in panel discussions at conferences in which the organisation participates.

“Speakers at ICC conferences and ICC speakers at external events are often male yet this does not reflect what our staff and global network look like,” said WBW member José Godinho. “ICC has more women staff members than men yet this is not reflected in the speakers chosen to represent the organisation externally.”

The ICC Gender Balance Pledge stems from a recognition that ICC can do better, committing the organisation to take active steps to encourage gender balance at conferences. This includes refusing, where possible, to speak on any male-only or highly gender-imbalanced panels at external events. Noting that “a good speaker is not necessarily high-ranking”, ICC also pledges to empower younger professionals by providing public speaking guidance and inviting them to speak.

Beyond ICC headquarters, Mr Denton committed to encouraging adoption of the ICC Pledge by the organisation’s global network—the largest and most representative in the world—covering over 45 million companies and more than 1 billion workers.

“It makes a difference”

Participating in panel discussions at conferences offers professionals valuable opportunities to build networks, demonstrate expertise and be exposed to new opportunities. A failure to extend such opportunities to female professionals impedes the wider goal of gender equality in leadership positions across business, government and academia.

In an analysis of 12,600 speaking roles at conferences between 2012 and mid-2017, Open Society Foundations found that men occupied 74% of the roles, compared to only 26% for women.

Diverse panels also improve the quality of discussions. A majority of male speakers from a specific region provides a limited perspective and deprives audiences of a broader range of views offered by diverse speakers from different backgrounds.

Moreover, when audiences are exclusively exposed to male role models, the absence of women is easily perpetuated: fewer women will volunteer for speaking opportunities and fewer will be invited to speak publicly.

Nicolle Graugnard, an ICC Senior Policy Manager, shared the memory of mentioning, at an event in Saudi Arabia, that she was the first woman to lead ICC’s Commission on Trade and Investment and witnessing the newly-formed women’s section of the Council of Saudi Chambers burst into applause at the news.

“We can’t be afraid to be that one female voice in the room,” Ms Graugnard said. “It makes a difference.”

Gender parity reached at the International Court of Arbitration

The event also provided an opportunity to highlight progress ICC has also made towards gender equality in its operations. Alexis Mourre, President of the ICC International Court of Arbitration, noted that 50% of the Court’s members are women—the first time an arbitral institution has reached gender parity.

Such an accomplishment is all the more noteworthy when considering where female representation at the Court stood only several years ago, remarked Mirèze Philippe, Special Counsel at the Court and Founding Co-President of ArbitralWomen. Up until 2003, only 1-6% of ICC Court Members were women, rising to 10-16% up until 2015, then to 23% from 2015 to 2018, before reaching parity in 2018.

Read more about ICC’s commitment to diversity on our website.