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ICAEW signs Equal Representation for Expert Witnesses Pledge

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 23 Apr 2024

ERE initiative urges commitment to fair representation and equal opportunities following concerns about the low numbers of women appearing as expert witnesses.

ICAEW has signed up to an initiative to boost female representation among expert witnesses, after it emerged that women were appointed as sole expert witnesses in just 10% of cases requiring an expert during 2022.

The Equal Representation for Expert Witnesses (ERE) initiative was conceived by Kathryn Britten, Partner and Managing Director at AlixPartners, and developed with input from experts across dispute resolution, including lawyers, following concerns about the low numbers of women appearing as experts. It officially launched in 2022.

The initiative encourages individuals and organisations involved in all forms of dispute resolution to sign up to the ERE Pledge, which has been designed to address the challenges faced by women who work – or aspire to work – as expert witnesses worldwide.

Signatories agree that women should be appointed as expert witnesses on an equal opportunity basis and commit to several actions to improve the visibility and representation of women as expert witnesses. 

Fair representation

They include ensuring that women are fairly represented across all spheres of the profession, including rosters and lists of potential expert appointees. Signatories also promise to collate gender statistics for appointments and make them publicly available, and provide support and mentoring to encourage women to pursue expert appointments.

“Senior experts can do a lot to help change this, because they will be the ones who tend to speak with the lawyers and who engage experts. We have to be prepared to invest in our women so they can learn and see how the process works and gear them up to be ready to step up at the right time,” Britten says. 

Expert witnesses help a court, a judge, an arbitrator or a tribunal to make their decision by bringing an unbiased opinion, usually in an area that’s outside the specific expertise of the judge or arbitrator. 

Britten, who is an ICAEW Council member and past Chair of ICAEW’s Forensic and Expert Witness Community, said the objective of the ERE Pledge is to create a coalition of supporters and advocates in the world of dispute resolution: “I qualified as a chartered accountant in 1979 and I’ve been acting as an expert witness for about 30 years. In all those years, I've rarely come across other female expert witnesses. That was ringing alarm bells in my mind. 

“We’re asking people to help to drive that change by signing up to the ERE Pledge. We know there are no magic wands for this. However, it’s about increasing the visibility of female expert witnesses and raising awareness of the issue.”

Repeat work

Britten says research conducted last year suggests that only 10% of the dispute resolution cases worldwide had female sole expert witnesses in 2022. “And yet when females are appointed, they go on to get a lot of repeat work. So, it’s about getting over that initial hurdle. 

“Lawyers tend to go back to experts that they’ve used before, so it’s a chicken-and-egg situation for all experts, male and female. It’s about thinking beyond who you’ve used before and picking the right person for the job. We want women to have equal opportunities to get this work. Our objectives eventually are to achieve parity,” Britten says.

Britten hopes that the initiative will encourage more women to aspire to be expert witnesses in their chosen professions, while also giving them better opportunities to achieve their goals. In doing so, the ERE initiative aims to widen the pool of expert witnesses available and enhance the reputation of expert witnesses. 

“The bigger the pool of expert witnesses, the more likely you are to have the right expert. But also, it’s only right that the diverse population going into disputes has a diverse pool of experts providing evidence for the people who are making the decisions in their disputes,” Britten says. 

Thousands on board

There are already 1,543 signatories, including 136 signing on behalf of their organisations. The full list is published on the ERE website and includes accountancy firms EY, Grant Thornton and Mazars.

The ERE Pledge has been created to be a sister pledge to the Equal Representation in Arbitration Pledge, which has been highly effective since its inception in 2015, calling for – and seeing – an increased proportion of women appointed as arbitrators.

Sarah Ghaffari, ICAEW’s Director, Communities, Business and Practice, says: “Diversity and inclusion is a key pillar of ICAEW’s strategy. Signing the pledge is testament to ICAEW’s commitment to strengthening diversity and inclusivity within the profession, and we look forward to promoting this important work to our members and member firms.”

Laura Dymott, Director of Forensic Services at FRP and current Chair of ICAEW’s Forensic and Expert Witness Community says: “The community is proud to stand behind the Equal Representation for Expert Witnesses initiative. Signing this pledge is an important step for us all to continue to raise awareness of gender disparity, celebrate progress and inspire the next generation of experts.”

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