CIArb Features

Expert witnesses: Senior sponsors, community, and navigating barriers

11 Apr 2024

A diverse global audience of almost 100 people gathered together for Ciarb’s event ‘Let’s Discuss How to Increase Gender Equality for Expert Witnesses’ in February 2024. Professionals including expert witnesses, aspiring experts, lawyers, and arbitrators met to consider ways to increase gender equality for expert witnesses. Kathryn Britten and Isabel Santos Kunsman, co-founders of Equal Representation in Expert Witnesses (ERE) weigh in. 

Women were observed as appointed or testifying as sole expert witnesses in just 10% of cases requiring an expert during 2022, according to a 2023 survey from Equal Representation for Expert Witnesses (ERE), conducted in collaboration with global consulting firm AlixPartners. At the Let’s Discuss event, the group discussed the survey findings and the challenge in elevating female representation in expert witness roles, which are critical in ensuring the legitimacy and effectiveness of our legal systems domestically and internationally.

Only a minority of attendees had not observed challenges for aspiring female experts within the global arbitration community. The majority spoke passionately about the barriers that need to be overcome, with many suggesting solutions that can be implemented within and outside their own organisations.

Support within organisations – the importance of senior sponsors

Many participants strongly believed that senior experts, particularly men, need to help their less experienced colleagues to access career development opportunities, especially when it comes to testifying for the first time. Experienced experts can open doors by recommending less experienced colleagues to their lawyer contacts and offering support and sponsorship.

Many participants felt that more could be done within their organisations to ensure that women are being put forward for expert witness opportunities and promoted more generally. Introducing reward systems that recognise those who contribute to advancing others could be a powerful incentive in driving positive change.

Suggestions also included writing joint reports, and testifying jointly, where the issues in dispute lend themselves to separation and this is acceptable to the client and the tribunal. Names of all contributing colleagues should also be included in expert reports, to improve name recognition.

More senior experts can also help less experienced experts, particularly women, to grow and develop their networks by including them in their own networking activities.

The role of the wider arbitration community – lawyers hold the key

Participants universally agreed with an important finding from the ERE 2023 survey, that one of the main reasons for the scarcity of female expert witnesses is that lawyers tend to appoint experts they know or have used before, and that these shortlists are predominantly male. The group agreed that lawyers need to be more broadminded in their selection of experts for shortlists, and that in-house lawyers can insist that the shortlists they receive are diverse.

Expert witnesses and lawyers agreed that many “number twos” in expert teams have several years’ experience of report writing, even if they have not yet testified. These expert team members often hold the deepest subject knowledge, and women frequently fulfil this role. The group agreed that these individuals should be given the opportunity to demonstrate their expertise, and that lawyers should ask their existing expert witness contacts to recommend other individuals they would put forward.

Navigating the barriers – guidance for aspiring female expert witnesses

Recognising the systemic barriers that women face in getting appointed as expert witnesses, and the importance of support and sponsorship from the broader community, participants also discussed ways for aspiring female experts to help themselves. These included making themselves as visible as possible, and taking opportunities to be seen by instructing lawyers when they arise, even at advanced career stages.

Networking or public speaking can be daunting, particularly in male-dominated environments, however there are many female and young practitioner networks in the world of dispute resolution, and these provide opportunities that enable aspiring experts to build their confidence among like-minded people.

Many expert witnesses are keen to work flexibly, particularly around family commitments, and the group agreed that this should not be a barrier to career advancement. Aspiring female experts were encouraged to promote their contributions and make clear their commitment to the role and willingness to work around personal commitments. The group recognised the need to take up networking opportunities that fit with flexible hours and agreed that there were plenty that could be embraced.

Perceived, or actual, lack of confidence is seen as a barrier. The group considered the importance of taking up relevant training or coaching opportunities to help overcome this, as well as seeking role models and mentors, and declining tasks that will not contribute to career development.


Find out more about Equal Representation for Expert Witnesses (ERE) and sign the ERE pledge.


Read more: How to improve diversity in the Expert Witness community


Kathryn Britten is a Partner & Managing Director, London, AlixPartners and a Chartered Accountant and a pioneering woman in the forensic accounting field. She is one of the UK’s most senior expert witnesses, having acted for more than 25 years as an independent expert witness and expert determiner. Kathryn also advises clients and their counsel in litigation, international arbitration and ADR, including mediation and expert determination. Kathryn is the sponsor for AlixPartners’ Women’s Employee Resource Group in EMEA, which empowers women in all areas of the firm to reach their full potential at work and achieve a balance that gives them fulfilment in all aspects of their lives. She has received the London “Women in the City - Accountancy” award for her contribution to helping women in the workplace and she is passionate about helping women to succeed. In 2022, Kathryn further demonstrated this passion through the launch of the Equal Representation for Expert Witnesses (ERE) Pledge. Kathryn is a member of the advisory board of the London Chamber of Arbitration and Mediation and a mentor to several senior women in a variety of different professions.

Isabel Santos Kunsman is Partner & Managing Director, Washington DC, at AlixPartners, and an experienced expert witness on financial, valuation, and quantum matters. She is one of the leading quantum expert witness in International Arbitration, having testified on behalf of both investors and states for over 15 years. Isabel also advises clients and their counsel in domestic regulatory proceedings, expert determinations, and valuations. She is regularly asked to speak at conferences throughout the world on energy, arbitration and finance issues and is ranked by Who’s Who Legal as Global Elite Thought Leader in: Financial Advisory and Valuation – Quantum of Damages. Isabel is a dual Spanish and US citizen and holds an MBA degree with the highest distinction from Georgetown University. She is passionate about helping women succeed and ensuring the litigation and arbitration world mirrors the diversity of the world we live in. She is very proud of having launched the Equal Representation for Expert Witnesses (ERE) initiative and is committed to ensuring its success.