Chinese Arbitral Women from Hong Kong to the World
Reporter: Lester Fung (Sidley Austin, Hong Kong)
The Women in Arbitration (“WIA”) initiative was launched by the HKIAC in February 2018 to promote and support female practitioners in international arbitration and related practice areas in China. Having previously hosted two successful events in Shanghai and Beijing respectively, the HKIAC hosted its inaugural WIA seminar in Hong Kong during the Hong Kong Arbitration Week on 29 October 2018.
Despite the topic of the seminar, it was not restricted to females nor persons with a Chinese ethnic background. The event attracted a huge and diverse audience, male and female, local Chinese and foreign (who were prepared to attend the seminar with the aid of instant translation).
The seminar was conducted in the form of panel discussion moderated by Dr. Ling Yang (Deputy Secretary-General of the HKIAC). The panellists were from various law firms, academia and arbitral institutions, namely Ms. Huafang Zhu (Tiantong & Partners), Ms. Ariel Ye (King & Wood Mallesons), Ms. Fang Zhao (Hui Zhong Law Firm), Ms. Yan Zhang (Sidley Austin), Prof. Weixia Gu (The University of Hong Kong) and Dr. Wenying Wang (CIETAC Hong Kong).
At the start of the seminar, Dr. Wang shared some interesting statistics revealing that a huge majority of practitioners interviewed considered that arbitration in China was dominated by males and only 50% of the interviewees considered that this situation should be improved.
The panellists went on to discuss the reasons for this unfortunate perception. The panellists considered that it was not due to a lack of female legal practitioners in the market (for example, amongst 30,000 lawyers in Beijing, around 13,000 of them are female), but rather, the society’s misperceptions towards and lack of knowledge of female practitioners. The panellists also observed that in some instances, female practitioners may also have doubts about their own ability to thrive in the field of arbitration. The panellists all agree that there is a need to continue to increase female practitioners’ visibility in the arbitration community and ensure that they command equal respect.
The panellists then shared what they considered to be the strengths of female practitioners. For example, the panellists considered that female practitioners tend to be better storytellers with better communication skills and are committed to perfection. The panellists also noted that female practitioners may adopt different advocacy styles but can nevertheless come across as strong advocates.
Lastly, the panellists shared their views on the Chinese lawyers’ role in international arbitrations. As there is an increasing number of PRC entities participating in international arbitrations, there is an increasing demand for Chinese lawyers, who can leverage their knowledge of the PRC law and cultural subtleties in the PRC. It was observed that English is still the most commonly used language in international arbitrations and it remains to be seen whether Chinese would become more popular in future.
The audience was enthusiastic in raising questions after the panel session. All in all, it was a successful event.