A discussion held during the India ADR Week 2022 on Monday saw lawyers make suggestions on what it would take to have more women arbitrators, and consequently achieve gender diversity in the field..The discussion on the topic Gender diversity in arbitration: Have we really made any progress?, hosted by Khaitan & Co, was part of the five-day celebration of India ADR Week organised by the Mumbai Centre for International Arbitration (MCIA). .Shreya Gupta, Partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas, was the moderator for the event. She opened the discussion by pointing out that arbitration centres across the world had begun boasting of an increase in the number of women on their panel of arbitrators.She asked the panelists to share their experience and suggestions for young female lawyers who want to pursue careers in arbitration..Advocate Ankita Singhania, an independent counsel practicing on the commercial side in the Bombay High Court, candidly pointed out there was a dearth of female role models in Mumbai, especially on the commercial side.Taking a page from her own experience, Singhania highlighted that since the environment in courts was not nurturing and there were inherent, age-old biases from judges to clients, the results of the efforts of this generation may not reflect until the next generation.She pointed out that the Bombay High Court was one of the first courts in the country to start appointing young arbitrators in small scale matters. And receiving some initial backlash, parties and lawyers began preferring young arbitrators for the dynamic perspective they bring to the case.“Once there is familiarity about something, things get easier. Similarly, the more women are seen as arbitrators on panels, the more it will make the system familiar, and therefore, palatable and acceptable,” Singhania said.She added that consistency and patience were the keys to growing professionally.“Talent which manages to sustain itself at the Bar does come into recognition. Over a period of time, when you have consistently performed, you can be relied upon, and you will start to accumulate respect. With more appearances, there will be familiarity between the lawyer and the judge. Just being prepared, having patience and not giving up… When you start doing well, then gender goes into oblivion. It can be very empowering,” Singhania said in conclusion..Jyoti Sinha, Counsel at Khaitan & Co, confessed that she rarely had a female arbitrator on the panel or a female opposing counsel. As opposed to arbitration, she claimed that litigation saw more diversity.“We have made progress, but it is not by leaps and bounds that can show gender inclusivity. In litigation, you see a lot more women in court and a more younger crowd, but not at the degree that you would expect,” she said.She stated that women still had to battle unconscious bias and stereotypes.“Maternity benefits are excellent, but the biases they face are things like ‘if a woman is married, she will definitely take a maternity leave, so can she be trusted with bigger responsibilities, considering there will be a gap’. The other challenges are pay discrimination, working with people junior to you...I am sure they will change their mind after one performs well, but the question we need to address today is why should there have been a bias in the first place?”Sinha implored younger women to come forward with their experiences so that others get encouragement to act when something doesn’t feel right to them professionally. "Learning from a senior woman in the field is always more insightful and then young women can build upon that,” Sinha said..Sheila Ahuja, Partner at Allen & Overy, emphasized that the issue was not about women occupying more chairs, but about them occupying the ‘right chairs’. She added that the leadership position was most important and that is what women ought to aim for. “Embrace the opportunity, don’t think twice about how you will do it. When you are the same woman you have been the whole time, you will have made the change,” Ahuja said.She also recommended that publishing gender diversity statistics was one way to ensure that companies do not overlook women.To the younger women lawyers she gave three “dos and don’ts”.Three don’ts:Don’t focus on the fact that you are an exception, it will take a lot of conscious effort;Don’t attribute your success to someone, it is all your efforts; andDon’t think only about the negatives or hurdles on your way up.Three dos:Speak first, it is empowering and helps with overcoming a diffidence that may exist;Do tell yourself that you are good at what you do; andKnow that you can have it all, life is not about either work or life.In conclusion, she stated that beyond a certain point, women had to take matters in their own hands.“Find what you want to do, and map out a path; it is never an easy road...Sensitization is more important, and if there is a fight worth fighting, one must do it, even if one is on the way out,” she signed off..In-house head for litigation at Adani Enterprises, Payel Chatterjee opined that gender diversity could improve with increasing the number of women in the field, because it was the smart thing to do.“Whether there is investment, acquisition or merger, the first thing asked nowadays is the diversity ratio,” she remarked.She also asserted that not having the requisite diversity was more of a social concern, for reasons such as safety during travelling.“We are not handed over projects because they say ‘it may not be safe for you’. But let the woman decide and take a risk. Not being chosen because of gender is not the correct approach,” Chatterjee said.Advising younger lawyers, Chatterjee said that while it was important to work hard, it was equally important to speak one’s mind and demand what one deserved.“It is important to speak up and speak your mind about what you are expecting from a job. It is not always necessary that it will be understood. But no one is going to come and be your saviour. Put in the hard work which is necessary, and opportunities will come up. But not speaking up when necessary is also not right,” Chatterjee said.Finally, she suggested that mentorship was important, because what one learns from seniors would be passed on to juniors as well.“With more women in the field, the endeavour now of women and men should be to have more women on the table. This is so that the next generation has it a little bit easier, might help them to stick around for longer without giving up,” Chatterjee said.