Posted by Brian Rogers, regulatory director, legal division, at Legal Futures Associate The Access Group
The bi-annual Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) diversity survey will be run in late summer this year. The last survey took place in 2019 and saw 96% of firms (9,500 in all) reporting their data from more than 186,000 people.
As with the previous survey, there has been slight changes to some of the questions. These relate to questions used to monitor socio-economic background, ethnicity, sex and gender identity, and religion or belief and sexual orientation.
The questions on sex and gender have been changed to reflect a more inclusive approach, so a third option has been added for the sex question for those who do not identify as male or female.
The ethnicity question has seen the addition of ‘Roma’ as a subcategory for the White group, and the removal of White/Chinese as a subcategory for the Mixed/multiple ethnic background group.
Some minor changes have been made to the wording of the sexual orientation and religion or belief question, removing reference to straight for those who select ‘heterosexual’, and removing reference to Atheist in the option for those who select no religion or belief.
If past surveys are anything to go by the survey will run over a number of months. Firms that don’t lodge their data by the deadline will be contacted by the SRA and if data is still not submitted by any further deadline will be referred for enforcement action.
Law firms have a regulatory duty to allow their employees to participate in a survey, but they must not force them to participate; the SRA hopes that employees will recognise the benefits from providing diversity data but, if they don’t wish to provide it, they should be encouraged to select ‘Prefer not to say’, rather than not complete the survey at all.
Firms need to reassure their employees about how their data will be used and that it is provided anonymously and will be handled in line with the Data Protection Act. That means, for example, that it will not be published unless they give their consent, or if there is a risk the data they provide could identity them; this could occur in small firms/departments where publicly available website profiles could be compared with published data and the person identified from it.
Consultants also need to be given the opportunity to complete a survey, but they must be contracted for three months or longer – it does not matter whether they are paid through invoices or through the payroll. They should be included within the appropriate role category in the same way as other employees.
In the past questions have been asked about who should not be included in the survey, these are: people engaged in work which has been outsourced; barristers or other experts engaged on individual matters; and people who are normally based outside England and Wales.
If someone works for more than one firm, they must only complete one questionnaire. This should be for the firm where they do the majority of their work and spend the majority of their time. If this is equal, then they need to choose which firm survey they want to complete.
Firms can use the questionnaire provided by the SRA but care needs to be taken so that individuals are not identified, for example, by asking for returns to be made via email.
Once survey data has been collected, it must be fed into the SRA’s online portal before the given deadline. The SRA does not allow third-party survey systems to link to its portal, so although these systems can generate reports showing consolidated data, firms will still need to report this data to the SRA themselves.
We can assist firms with their diversity data collection by providing our online anonymous survey system. If you would like further details on the diversity survey, join our webinar at 12.30pm on Wednesday 26 May.