Clients are ratcheting up the pressure on law firms to improve their diversity, with applicants for the panel of the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) the latest to have to prove their credentials.
Answers on diversity questions were weighted to make up 20% of applicants’ marks, the PPF’s interim director of legal said this week.
The PPF announced that Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells, Osborne Clarke and Gowling WLG had retained their places on its panel after an “extensive” tender process. CMS and Addleshaw Goddard joined the panel as new members.
The PPF, set up by the Pensions Act 2004, protects members of defined pensions schemes where an employer collapses and cannot pay members what they were promised. It is one of the UK’s largest asset owners, with more than £38bn of assets under management and over 425,000 members.
Miriam Kimber told Legal Futures that law firms faced two main diversity-related questions, one on the “disability employment gap” and the other on tackling workforce inequality more generally.
Firms were asked to describe the commitments they would make to reducing the low rate of employment for disabled people compared to the rest of the population.
One of the types of commitments firms could show, which matched up to the PPF’s own accreditation, was whether they were members of the government’s Disability Confident employment scheme, a way of measuring progress by businesses in employing disabled people.
Figures released by the Solicitors Regulation Authority this week showed that only 5% of solicitors are disabled, compared to an average of 14% for the UK workforce.
Ms Kimber said some of the examples of inclusive recruitment practices they hoped to see in the firms’ tender documents included a commitment that women and those with protected characteristics were part of the recruitment process, a commitment to retaining staff – such as mothers returning from maternity leave – transparent systems of pay and rewards, and the promotion of an inclusive working environment.
Firms were not asked about their own diversity statistics, but whether they had action plans and data, so their progress could be measured.
“Asking these questions is a really important way of making diversity real as a business requirement and showing it matters. The more people do this, the more business will be done in the right way.
“Panellists should share their plans and what they’re doing. We can all learn from each other.”
Ms Kimber said the PPF itself had a “really strong” diversity programme and, as well as asking questions of suppliers, was “working hard on its culture”.
She said women already occupied more than 40% of senior management roles at the PPF, with a target of 45% by the end of next year.
Ethnic minority representation among staff at the organisation was almost 25%, with a target of 30% by the end of next year, and 9% for those identifying themselves as Black.
The targets for senior management roles were ethnic representation of 25% by the end of 2023 and Black representation of 4.4%.
She added that the panel review was initiated by Dana Grey, interim chief risk and data protection officer and chair of the diversity and inclusion group.
Three law firms were selected to provide additional specialist advice to businesses during the PPF assessment period – Gowling WLG, Osborne Clarke and CMS.
Separately, Gowling WLG’s commitment to pro bono work as official legal advisor to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games was noted in the government’s levelling-up white paper, published this week.
The paper explained how public sector buyers were being encouraged to give more weight to “social value” factors and not just price alone.
Companies bidding for contracts for Birmingham 2022 had to demonstrate a social value component, with a minimum of 10% of the evaluation weighting dedicated to it.
“Gowling WLG are delivering pro bono legal advice to charities together with volunteer hours to hundreds of beneficiaries,” the paper said.