SRA bids to increase number of senior ethnic minority staff

SRA: Disappointed by growth in gender pay gap

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has announced plans to improve the number of senior ethnic minority staff, although its ethnicity pay gap is “heading in the right direction”.

Its second year of reporting on the ethnicity pay gap showed the median figure falling from 15% to 12.7%.

Meanwhile, the gender pay gap has increased at the regulator, where two-thirds of staff are female, with the median figure up by almost two percentage points to 11.2%.

The SRA said it was “disappointed” that this had grown for the third time in a row – it was 8.8% in 2020. However, it said the increase was “largely driven by changes in the proportion of males and females at the more senior levels”.

According to this year’s SRA gender pay gap report, women make up almost 60% of staff in the upper-middle pay quartile and over 55% of those in the top quartile.

The situation is very different for ethnic minority representation at senior levels, where White staff make up 80% of those in the top pay quartile. More than a quarter (26%) of SRA staff are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Although the regulator said it was “pleased with the progress made in our ethnicity pay gap”, it was still “considerably higher” than the national average median gap of 2.3%.

In response, the SRA has published a senior ethnicity inclusion action plan, which commits it to doubling the ethnic minority representation in is senior team from 8% to 16% over the next five years. The aim thereafter is to increase the figure to 20% by 2032.

Under the plan, the regulator will commission a survey to understand barriers to career development and explore “specific career development programmes for under-represented groups”, including mentoring, secondment and apprenticeships.

In terms of recruitment, the SRA will source “a diverse panel of people” – potentially including outside members – for leadership recruitment processes, to safeguard diversity related concerns.

It will set a target of 15% ethnic minority candidates when recruiting for leadership positions “where there is sufficient volume”, applying it to applications, shortlisting and interviewing.

The SRA will also be “reviewing and challenging the criteria required to apply for our roles”, ensuring that ‘essential’ requirements “are really essential, for example such as a degree qualification versus related experience”.

Recruitment consultants used by the SRA would be pressed to “work much harder” to provide a diverse range of candidates, or the regulator would “re-tender to test whether there are others who can do more in this area”.

Unlike publication of the gender pay gap, which is a legal requirement for organisations with over 250 staff, publication of the ethnicity pay gap is optional – the SRA is encouraging larger law firms to do the same.

Paul Philip, chief executive of the SRA, commented: “We believe that it is important that we, and others in the legal sector, publish our ethnicity pay gap in order to support and drive on-going change and progress in this area.

“In terms of both gender and ethnicity, we continue to have good diversity in our overall workforce, but these latest figures confirm that we need to do more to reflect that diversity in more senior positions.”

Meanwhile, in other SRA news, the regulator has named two new lay members for its board. Starting on 1 January 2023 is Claire Bassett, a former CEO of the Electoral Commission, Parole Board and Criminal Cases Review Commission.

A non-executive director of the Serious Fraud Office, she also serves on the board of the Internet Watch Foundation. Early on in her career, she worked at what was then the Legal Services Commission, latterly as head of customer services.

Joining later in 2023 is Rob McWilliam, a former chief finance officer of Asda who also held vice-president roles at Amazon. He holds a number of other non-executive director roles, including at trade body CryptoUK, online marketplace and Card Factory.

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