Posted by Gary Yantin, director of best practice at Legal Futures Associate VinciWorks
From today (4 June), law firms have a four-week window to submit their diversity data to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The SRA requires this information from every law firm in England and Wales every two years, the last survey having taken place in 2017.
There are a couple of new questions on this year’s survey and some amended ones, but the methodology remains largely the same: every person employed by a law firm is obliged to reveal their age, gender, ethnicity, disability, religion, sexual orientation and education.
The form is meant to be anonymous and respondents can ‘prefer not to say’ for all questions. The SRA states that its objectives for collecting data is to comply with its own obligations to report data to the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Services Board.
The regulator will also use the data to promote diversity in the profession and to meet its public sector equality duty.
In the last SRA census, responses showed that 64% of all those working in the legal profession were women. However, at the leadership level, women only made up 33% of the partnership stream.
The census also showed that only 3% of the profession reported a disability compared to 10% across the UK working age population generally. This may be a result of under-reporting but could firms do more to better accommodate workers with disabilities?
While the SRA’s reasons for the survey are admirable, simply asking firms to collect diversity data will not help change the demographics of the profession. For that to happen, firms need to embrace and promote diversity, reduce discrimination and strive for equality in the workplace.
The Equality Act 2010 cemented nine characteristics worthy of protection against discrimination. These were previously protected by the Race Relations Act and the Disability Discrimination Act, which in turn replaced even earlier legislation.
Providing staff with diversity training that covers these characteristics and how to avoid direct or indirect discrimination, harassment or victimisation is therefore not a new thing but tribunal applications referencing discrimination continue to rise.
Instead of training staff on the law, teach them how to spot issues of discrimination and protect diversity by highlighting scenarios that they may actually encounter and make them aware of topical issues.
Simply collecting and submitting data on diversity does not go anywhere near far enough to change the demographics of the profession and support those who wish to make their career in law. Law firms should review not just their policies but their practices and procedures to ensure that they match up.
Stating that you have a policy not to discriminate on grounds of disability or that you disapprove of gender pay gaps needs to be backed up with suitable actions to ensure that the policy is carried out in practice.
By all means, publish your diversity data to demonstrate what you are trying to achieve. There is no requirement to be diverse, simply a requirement not to discriminate. Transparency demonstrates to your clients and to the public that you are tackling these issues appropriately.
A word of caution, though. Be aware of the data protection requirements under GDPR when publishing data to ensure that individual’s data is not identifiable.
Find out more about the SRA diversity survey here.
VinciWorks just released a new course on diversity and equality. The story-based course sheds light on stories of discrimination and harassment all too frequently experienced by people in the workplace. You can learn more and demo the course here.