Vienna-based Alumni highlights: Dr. Alice Fremuth-Wolf of VIAC

During my decade of service to the Vienna International Arbitral Center (VIAC) between 2012-2021, I frequently witnessed both a strong presence of female talents, as well as gender-based discrimination in the appointment of arbitrators. It thus became one of my missions to increase the visibility of female arbitrator candidates and ensure their fair consideration during appointment procedures.

The VIAC now places a large focus on gender equality – both within the institution and in all its activities. The “Gender Diversity and Equality” section on VIAC´s website showcases efforts concerning women’s empowerment and gender equality. The institution addresses fair proceedings in arbitration appointments and  gender-disaggregated data on transparency among arbitrators are being closely monitored. As an alumna of the Vienna-based International Gender Champions network, I rigorously respect the Parity Panel Pledge while participating in and organizing different panels and events. I also support young women who are interested in arbitration and alternative dispute resolution processes. When I was still at the VIAC I was seeking out female candidates for intern positions and remained their mentor even after they left VIAC.

The responsibility of nominating and appointing arbitrators rests with the VIAC Board. This task is taken very seriously and entails lengthy discussions among Board members to consider each candidate’s credentials. The Board aims to short-list both male and female candidates for each appointment.

VIAC publishes the names of all arbitrators appointed to cases since 2018 to increase transparency. In 2020 8 new arbitrators were appointed by the Board, of which 5 were female. While the institution has achieved gender parity as a whole with a 50:50 ratio, co-arbitrators and parties are much more reluctant to appoint female arbitrators.

Whenever and wherever I met women practitioners, I encouraged them to apply to be listed on the informal Practitioner’s List for Arbitrators. You would not believe how many women feel underqualified, even though in reality, they are amazing candidates! So I took it upon myself to provide active encouragement and sought out new arbitration leaders. Sometimes just a little nudge is all it takes. Women need to build their own networks such as Arbitral Women to create alliances and support each other by lifting one another up as opposed to putting one another – and oneself – down.

In recognition of the under-representation of women on international arbitral tribunals, members of the arbitration community drew up a pledge (“Equal Representation in Arbitration Pledge”) to take action. I am (still) a member of the steering committee, and VIAC has both signed the pledge and participates in the “Search for Female Arbitrators” initiative, available on ERA’s webpage. This is a fantastic tool for those who seek out female candidates, or to share with those who express difficulty in finding female candidates.

  • Alice Fremuth-Wolf - Former Secretary-General of the Vienna International Arbitral Center and Alumna International Gender Champion.