SRA progress on equality and diversity 2012 (June 2013)

June 2013

Introduction

  • 1.

    Our Equality Framework, published in July 2011, set out our nine equality objectives for 2011-2012:

    • 1. Promoting diversity in the workplace,
    • 2. Promoting diversity at Board and Committee level,
    • 3. Developing our people for new ways of working,
    • 4. Embedding equality in the work we are doing to transform our organisation,
    • 5. Supporting small firms in managing the transition to outcomes-focused regulation and the introduction of alternative business structures (ABS),
    • 6. Continuing to closely monitor the disproportionate outcomes for BME solicitors and firms and seeking where possible to reduce that disproportionality,
    • 7. Improving how we respond to those in the profession with a disability,
    • 8. Better understanding the needs of consumers and the wider public, and
    • 9. Encouraging a diverse profession.
     
  • 2.

    This report sets out the progress and achievements we have made in meeting our equality objectives for 2012 and follows the progress report published in 2011. During 2013/14 we will be working towards a new set of objectives and a revised action plan.

  • 3.

    We have set out our progress in three main sections, our role as an employer, how we carry out our regulatory work, and the work that we are doing with consumers.

The SRA - our role as an employer

  • 4.

    When we introduced our move to outcomes-focused regulation at the end of 2011, we embarked on a programme to transform both the structure of our organisation and the way we worked. A significant proportion of our staff were put at risk of redundancy and we went through an extensive recruitment exercise, appointing people in particular to our new Authorisation and Supervision directorates.

  • 5.

    2012 saw a continuation of this transformation programme, as we focused on providing staff with the new skills required to operate under outcomes-focused regulation. In this section we will:

    • review our progress in promoting the diversity of our staff, Board and Committee members (objectives 1 and 2);
    • set out the steps we have taken to prepare our people for new ways of working and how we have embedded equality in the transformation process (objectives 3 and 4);
    • report the findings from our external benchmarking applications in 2012 to measure our progress.
     

Diversity profile of our people

  • 6.

    As a result of the reorganisation and our move to a single site in Birmingham during September 2012, we have seen a change in the profile of our staff and a fall in overall staff numbers from last year.

  • 7.

    At the end of December 2012, we had 508 permanent employees compared to 586 the year before. A summary of the diversity breakdown is set out below with the figures for 2011 in brackets where they are different:

    • 67% (71%) female and 33% (29%) male;
    • 2% of our staff have stated they are disabled;
    • 2% (1%) of our staff are as gay, lesbian or bisexual;
    • 15% (13%) are from BME groups of whom 12% (10%) are Asian, 1% are Black, 1% (0%) are Chinese and 1% (2%) are from a mixed background.
     
  • 8.

    Whilst we were not able to achieve what proved to be overambitious positive action targets, there is some improvement in our diversity profile overall. However, that diversity is not reflected at all levels in the organisation and there are still gaps for some equality groups.

  • 9.

    At the end of 2011, Lord Ouseley undertook a review of our HR policies and the diversity profile of our staff, looking at our progress since his report in 2008. Whilst he recognised there were challenges in maintaining the momentum for change in the course of major transformation, he identified there had been real improvements. However, there was more we needed to do to achieve better outcomes in particular for workforce diversity at more senior levels. He posed a number of questions to help us focus on how we might deliver tangible improvements.

  • 10.

    We welcome Lord Ouseley's report and have taken on board his comments. We accept that we need to do more to promote diversity as part of our transformation. We have taken some proactive steps to promote diversity in 2012 - for example, we have successfully renewed our 'two ticks' accreditation to promote diversity for disabled people and we purchased a presence on the Guardian Diversity Network, which promotes the organisation as a diverse employer. Our Human Resources Directorate (HRD), which is part of the Law Society Group, will be adopting a broader framework for diversity and inclusion matters in 2013, which will build upon the progress we have made and address any areas of disproportionality in respect of our staff.

  • 11.

    HRD now reports to the new Business and Oversight Board in the Law Society Group, which has representation from both the SRA and the Law Society. It is envisaged that the improved structure and governance arrangements and the recent appointment of a new Equality and Diversity Adviser for HRD will help us focus more clearly on how we can deliver further improvements in equality and diversity for staff at the SRA.

  • 12.

    In 2011, we started publishing the ethnicity and gender breakdown for the SRA Board, Committees and adjudicators. There was a recruitment exercise during 2012 and the Board now consists of 15 members; seven solicitors (one of whom chairs the Board) and eight lay people. The gender breakdown is ten male and five female members; the ethnicity breakdown is 13 white and two BME members.

  • 13.

    Our Board is helped in its work by seven Committees or Board groups and at least one board member sits on each one. Of the eleven committee members who are not on the Board, six are male and five are female and ten are white, and one member is BME.

  • 14.

    We have a panel of 26 adjudicators who make decisions about regulatory matters and, of whom 16 are legally qualified and ten are lay. 12 adjudicators are male and 14 are female; 15 adjudicators are white, five are BME and the ethnicity of six is unknown.

Transformation and developing our people for new ways of working

  • 15.

    It has been important to embed equality into our organisational transformation and in developing new ways of working and we have adopted a number of initiatives to achieve this over the past year:

    • providing diversity training, workshops and events for staff, including a programme to develop and embed our vision and values;
    • continuing to support the work of our inclusion champions; and
    • implementing an internal benchmarking tool to ensure all areas of the organisation are delivering against our equality framework.
     
  • 16.

    We continued with the programme established last year, providing a range of equality and diversity training across the organisation throughout 2012. In addition:

    • we provided specific training to prepare our Supervision staff in advance of their visits to firms as part of our thematic review of equality and diversity in those we regulate; and
    • we rolled out the training for decision makers introduced at the end of 2011 which included a half day session on managing unconscious bias.
     
  • 17.

    We held a number of events for staff throughout 2012 to raise awareness of diversity issues across the organisation. Our Disability Awareness Day included a range of training sessions, the offer of staff health screenings and useful talks such as the one from the Warwickshire Association for the Blind on sight loss awareness. We also arranged for the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) to speak to staff about some of the difficulties faced by the transgender community and discussed some of the implications for us as a regulator. This followed the release our Gender Reassignment policy statement which outlines how we recognise and respect the rights of those who have undergone or are undergoing gender reassignment.

  • 18.

    We worked with staff teams across the organisation through a series of workshops to embed our Vision and Values and translate these into everyday activities. An inclusive approach and the principles of equality and fairness are key elements running through our Vision and Values.

  • 19.

    We continued with the workshops we had started at the end of 2011 in response to concerns raised by staff about bullying, harassment and other unreasonable behaviour. The sessions were run by an external provider and were designed to reinforce key messages about acceptable behaviours and to equip staff with a range of tools to challenge inappropriate behaviour. We followed up the lessons learnt from staff during these sessions and held a number of focus groups to get an improved understanding of staff concerns. The findings from these focus groups are being used to help HRD finalise our new People Strategy which will have equality and diversity firmly embedded within it.

  • 20.

    During 2012 our Inclusion Champions continued to work successfully to embed equality and diversity into the way we work, demonstrating their commitment to this area by supporting our staff diversity events, leading some of the external workshops we held with the profession and carrying out some of our equality impact assessment work. They have now been brought within the SRA's champions community and worked jointly with our Transformation Champions on the SRA vision and values workshops for example.

  • 21.

    In January 2012, we developed and implemented an internal benchmarking tool to make sure that equality and diversity is mainstreamed into the work of individual business units. This involves each directorate or unit measuring their approach against a set of equality and diversity performance indicators which cover the following areas:

    • Being an employer of choice
    • Organisational culture and leadership
    • Decision making and policy development
    • Communication and stakeholder engagement
    • Contracting and procurement.
     
  • 22.

    We are currently assessing each part of the organisation against the outcomes to achieve level 1 and many units are working towards level 2.

Measuring our progress

  • 23.

    To help us measure our progress in these areas we decided to apply for two external benchmarks in 2012, Race for Opportunity (RfO) and the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. Both exercises involve an assessment by external equality experts to help us identify our strengths and weaknesses and to give us an idea as to how we compared to other similar organisations.

  • 24.

    Although focused specifically on ethnicity and sexual orientation equality, the assessment process involves a thorough and challenging evaluation of our approach to diversity and the feedback has been useful across all equality strands. We provided both organisations with detailed diversity data about our staff, copies of our employment policies and information about our strategic approach to equality and diversity.

  • 25.

    RfO awarded the SRA a silver banding and although we did not make Stonewall's top 100 employers, we improved our performance from last year. The feedback we received highlighted a number of areas where we are well ahead of other organisations in our sector, for example, the work we are doing to champion diversity at the SRA, our strategic planning through the Equality Framework, our engagement with consumers and the profession and our commitment to publishing our diversity monitoring data. They also identified areas for development which included our engagement and communication with staff, the need to identify clear development paths for staff to address diversity at more senior levels in the organisation and how we could improve our diversity monitoring and staff training.

  • 26.

    Along with the questions raised by Lord Ouseley's review referred to above, this feedback will be taken forward by HRD in 2013.

The SRA - our work as a regulator

  • 27.

    In this section we will focus on our regulatory work and the areas we identified through our 2011/12 equality objectives:

    • the impact of our move to outcomes-focused regulation;
    • our work to promote compliance with Principle 9;
    • promoting diversity in the profession;
    • monitoring and evaluating our regulatory decision making; and
    • engaging with the profession.
     

The impact of our move to outcomes-focused regulation

  • 28.

    As part of the equality impact assessment work on our move to outcomes-focused regulation, we identified a number of concerns, in particular from small firms and BME firms about how our new approach might impact on them.

  • 29.

    One year on, we carried out some research to evaluate the impact of this new approach on the profession and as a result of these concerns, looked in particular at the findings in relation to BME firms. The key findings indicated there were some differential findings for BME firms, a number of them indicating more positive than average views in several areas:

    • 59% of respondents from BME firms stated that they were 'favourable' towards outcomes-focused regulation, which is slightly higher than the overall response from all participants (50%).
    • 52% (compared to 38% overall) felt that the SRA focuses its resources on the risks that present the greatest risks to the public.
    • 64% (compared with 51% overall) believed that outcomes-focused regulation makes it clear what outcomes the SRA expects firms to deliver for their clients.
    • 49% (compared with 34% overall) believed that there is a constructive working relationship between their firm and the SRA.
     
  • 30.

    However, BME firms were less positive about the cost and time taken to ensure compliance. Respondents from these firms tended to estimate that compliance officers will need to spend a greater proportion of their time on compliance duties as opposed to other fee earning or business activities and were more likely to view outcome-focused regulation as ‘costing too much money’.

  • 31.

    We are working on wider piece of research to monitor the impact of the introduction of alternative business structures, which will consider the impact on both firms and consumers and our findings will be published at the end of 2013.

Promoting compliance with Principle 9

  • 32.

    Our new Handbook requires firms to be much more proactive with regards to equality and diversity. Principle 9 within the handbook requires the regulated community to 'run your business or carry out your role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity'. As with all the Principles, this applies across all the rules and regulatory requirements.

  • 33.

    At the end of 2012, we carried out a thematic review of how firms were complying with Principle 9. Working closely with the Diversity and Inclusion team, Supervisors visited 90 firms, randomly selected to provide a representative sample across England & Wales. The visits provided a good understanding of the work firms were doing to encourage equality and diversity as well as identifying some of the challenges that firms, both small and large, face.

  • 34.

    We found that firms that were proactive in identifying equality and diversity issues relevant to them and had thought ahead about the needs of their clients were able to provide the best examples of how they were complying with Principle 9. As a result of the visits we will be reviewing how we can be more risk based in regulating Principle 9, and reviewing the equality and diversity outcomes in Chapter 2 of the Handbook to ensure our expectations and requirements are clear.

  • 35.

    The supervision visits gave us an opportunity to talk to firms about the new Legal Services Board requirement to collect and publish workforce diversity data, another key project we undertook during 2012. Diversity monitoring is one of the indicative behaviours in chapter 2 and a key element of Principle 9. As it was the first year of implementing this requirement, we arranged an online survey which was sent to all firms for circulation to their staff. Over 9,000 firms participated in the survey with 93,074 individuals completing a diversity questionnaire, giving an average response rate of 42% per firm.

  • 36.

    We sent firms their aggregated diversity data in December 2012 and published a report across the whole firm population in April 2013. This year firms are required to collect, publish and report their workforce diversity data to us by January 2014.

  • 37.

    The Legal Services Board wrote to congratulate us on this work and both reports of our thematic supervision review of compliance with Principle 9 and the 2012 workforce diversity data statistics are available on our website.

Promoting diversity in the profession

  • 38.

    We continue to monitor the diversity profile of the profession and in our annual diversity monitoring report for 2012 we have provided detailed data tables broken down by ethnicity, gender, age and disability. There has been a continuing upward trend in the number of BME solicitors and female solicitors in the profession. Below are some of the headline figures for the total population where the equality data is known:

    • there was a slight increase in the proportion of women in the profession from 46% to 47%;
    • there was a very slight increase from last year in the proportion of the profession from a BME background which is 14% overall and little change within that group which is made up of 8% Asian, 2% Black, 1% Chinese, 1% Mixed and 2% of solicitors from other ethnic backgrounds;
    • there was little change in the profile of the profession by age, with 62% aged between 31 and 50;
    • only 1% of the population have declared a disability.
     
  • 39.

    We have provided some cross strand data again this year which shows:

    • Female solicitors are more concentrated in the younger age categories (from 22 to 40) compared to male solicitors – 62% of female solicitors are under 41 as compared to 39% of male solicitors.
    • There are proportionately more female solicitors in the profession from a BME background than there are men – 17% of the female solicitor population are BME as compared to 12% of men.
    • BME solicitors are more concentrated in the younger age categories (from 22 to 40) compared to white solicitors – 65% of BME solicitors are under 41 as compared to 49% of white solicitors.
     
  • 40.

    We are committed to promoting wider access to the profession in line with the statutory regulatory objective to 'encourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective profession', and during 2012 we continued with various initiatives to support this, including our Work Based Learning pilot as an alternative to the training contract for trainee solicitors, which started in September 2008. 90 candidates have successfully qualified through the work based learning route, and five remain in the pilot.

  • 41.

    The research report, commissioned to analyse the work based learning pilot, was published by BMG Research in October 2012 and has formed the basis of the SRA's submission to the Legal Education and Training Review on work based learning and alternative pathways into the profession.

  • 42.

    As part of the Legal Education and Training Review, an expert advisory group on equality, diversity and social mobility was established and is chaired by Professor Gus John. In April 2012 the group released a discussion paper that explored ways in which existing education and training practices can create barriers to access and therefore impact on diversity and social mobility within the profession.

  • 43.

    This paper will help inform analysis of the equality impact of any regulatory or structural changes that may be proposed by the research team. We expect a number of recommendations for the future regulation of legal education and training and will take these forward in 2013.

Monitoring and evaluating our regulatory decision making

  • 44.

    Our decision making framework outlines the importance of ensuring decisions are fair and free from bias, and we have already referred to the training programme rolled out this year to staff responsible for making regulatory decisions.

  • 45.

    During 2011, we carried out a series of case audits of our decision making in response to recommendations made in the report by Pearn Kandola. The report looked at disproportionality in some areas of our decision making and highlighted several areas where BME solicitors in particular were over represented. Most of the audits were completed in 2011 and the final outstanding audit was completed in 2012. This audit looked at decisions relating to solicitors' accountants' reports and although there was no evidence of unfairness or discrimination found, there were some recommendations about making improvements to strengthen the quality of our decision making and transparency. These have been addressed and our processes and procedures have been updated.

  • 46.

    Our annual diversity monitoring reports over the past few years indicate that male solicitors, BME solicitors and solicitors over the age of 40 are over represented in some of our regulatory outcomes when compared to the practising population. Since 2011, we have been monitoring the diversity breakdown of individuals involved in these regulatory outcomes against the population of all individuals subject to conduct or regulatory investigations each year. The most recent report for 2012 shows a reduction in the level of disproportionality for BME solicitors for key areas covered in the report when seen against the comparator group.

  • 47.

    Nevertheless, BME solicitors are still over represented in the SRA's work as compared to the practising population and we have been working for some time to investigate and better understand the reasons for this disproportionality.

  • 48.

    In addition to monitoring our regulatory outcomes, we have improved the way we handle complaints of discrimination as recognised by Lord Ouseley in his first review in 2010. However, a number of discrimination allegations have been raised by BME solicitors in the course of disciplinary or other regulatory proceedings, and this led one representative group to challenge the SRA in 2012. Their concerns were addressed through the External Implementation Group (EIG), a group chaired by Lord Ouseley to oversee the SRA's progress on equality and diversity. One of our responses to this challenge, and the latest step in our ongoing work to address disproportionality for BME solicitors, was to commission an Independent Comparative Case Review, which is being led by Professor Gus John.

  • 49.

    We developed the terms of reference in consultation with the EIG and the review started in early 2013. Professor John is looking at 120 case files, to identify if there is any differential treatment of BME solicitors, and is reviewing an equal number of files involving solicitors referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and solicitors whose cases were dealt with by the SRA adjudicators. We expect the review findings to be published before the Autumn, and will take forward any recommendations through our action plan for 2013/14.

Engaging with the profession

  • 50.

    Achieving fair and proportionate outcomes for all regulated individuals and firms and being seen to achieve these outcomes is very important to us. We have become much more open about our work in recent years and will continue to engage with a wide range of groups in the profession to promote understanding of what we do. The feedback we receive from consultations and other workshops helps us improve as a regulator and understand the pressures on practitioners in the legal marketplace.

  • 51.

    Following the road shows delivered to the profession across the country in 2011, we embarked on a series of focused engagement work with small firms and BME practitioner groups throughout 2012.

  • 52.

    We ran a series of interactive workshops designed to help support practitioners through the transition to outcomes focused regulation. The workshops were delivered to both Sole Practitioners Group members and BME practitioners and covered our new approach to supervision, risk and enforcement using practical case studies. The sessions emphasised the importance of firms engaging with us in order to comply with our new regulatory approach and thrive in the new legal climate. The events proved very popular and we received overwhelmingly positive feedback from those who attended.

  • 53.

    We also continue to engage with the Lawyers with Disabilities Division, attending their meetings regularly to share our progress with them and responding to concerns their members may have.

  • 54.

    We continue to monitor the number of reasonable adjustment requests we receive from the profession that come mainly through our contact centre. In 2012 we received 100 requests relating mainly to access to our online forms and documents. The most common requests were for documents to be sent in paper format or in a larger font.

  • 55.

    We received very few complaints relating to disability and reasonable adjustments during 2012 (four in total) and none of them was upheld. Some of these were considered by the Independent Case Review Service (ICRS), an independent body commissioned to deal with the more serious complaints and provide oversight of our complaints handling process.

  • 56.

    In their report for 2012, the ICRS reported real improvements overall, including our handling of the disability complaints, but there was one complaint which although rejected, led the ICRS to recommend that we take a particularly sensitive approach when dealing with reasonable adjustments. In response to this recommendation we issued some staff guidance in our internal newsletter. During 2013 we will be rolling out some reasonable adjustments e-learning for our staff. This will ensure our staff have the appropriate skills and knowledge to help them respond to reasonable adjustment requests.

The SRA - understanding and responding to consumers

  • 57.

    The SRA’s consumer affairs strategy outlining our approach to empowering consumers underpinned much of our work in 2012 with a focus on education and engagement with members of the public. Much of the progress we have achieved in this area will be set out in our consumer affairs annual report so the areas overlapping with our equality objectives are only briefly summarised here. The two main areas we have summarised in this section are:

    • the engagement and research work we have done with consumers in relation to diversity issues; and
    • how we have been trying to identify ways to improve access to the SRA for consumers and to monitor referrals brought to us.
     

Research and engagement

  • 58.

    We worked further on two key research projects during 2012:

    • To understand the experience of people who are deaf or hard of hearing in accessing legal services, we commissioned some research which was reported in 2012, 'Legal choices - silent process'. As a result, we worked with the Law Society who published a Practice Note for solicitors to highlight best practice in working with clients who are deaf or have hearing loss.
    • We started a long-term research project to understand how people that are vulnerable or more at risk of being disadvantaged because of their personal circumstances, can be better supported to manage their legal issues and get the legal services they most need.
     
  • 59.

    We continued our inclusive engagement work with consumers:

    • We launched a new national forum for not-for-profit organisations that represent disabled people and others who can be vulnerable. This was a basis for two-way communication between the SRA and such organisations on issues faced by disabled people in accessing legal services and getting the advice they need.
    • We started working with other legal regulators to plan a new platform for engaging with members of the public on legal services and regulatory issues. The website is being developed in line with feedback from the Digital Accessibility Centre to make sure it is as accessible and user-friendly as possible for the public.
     

Access to the SRA and monitoring referrals

  • 60.

    We receive a large number of referrals each year from a variety of sources providing information and reports about possible misconduct by solicitors. Lay informants (clients or other members of the public) are the largest source of referrals. In addition to considering consumer access to legal services in the marketplace, we wanted to ensure that as an organisation we are also accessible to consumers of legal services and the wider public.

  • 61.

    In 2012 BMG Research carried out a survey of lay informants who had contacted the SRA during 2011 to provide us with information about a solicitor. The key aims of this survey were:

    • to obtain diversity monitoring information from lay informants,
    • to measure their satisfaction with the process of providing the information to the SRA, and
    • to identify barriers that particular groups may face in accessing the SRA.
     
  • 62.

    The report made some useful recommendations about our accessibility and our approach to consumers, which we have covered in our consumer affairs report.

  • 63.

    We do not routinely monitor the diversity characteristics of our lay informants, as our contact with each individual is very limited and we were concerned that taking monitoring data from the public who were reporting the conduct of a solicitor might be disproportionate. We obtained some snapshot monitoring data from the lay informants involved in the survey, but this approach has its limitations and can be costly, so we are still considering alternatives.

Conclusions

  • 64.

    Our third annual report shows the continuing progress we have made in 2012 to achieve our equality and diversity objectives, despite the challenge of keeping pace with another year of transformation at the SRA.

  • 65.

    We have taken some proactive steps to promote diversity in the organisation and there has been an improvement in the diversity profile of our staff population. External equality experts have recognised areas of good practice and performance as well as highlighting areas for development. The improved structure and governance arrangements for our human resources work and the recent appointment of a new Equality and Diversity Adviser will help us focus more clearly on how we can deliver further improvements in equality and diversity for staff at the SRA in 2013.

  • 66.

    We have continued our positive engagement with consumers and the profession, particularly the focused workshops for sole practitioners and BME solicitors. It was encouraging to note from our research that in many areas, BME solicitors were positive about outcomes-focused regulation - during 2013 we will seek to broaden and strengthen our engagement work further.

  • 67.

    We successfully concluded our thematic supervision review of firms' compliance with Principle 9 and implemented the workforce diversity survey in 2012, which was the first time all firms have been asked to provide information about the diversity profile of their workforce. This work, which attracted a letter of congratulations from the Legal Services Board, has helped us promote equality and diversity in solicitors' firms which we will build on in 2013/14.

  • 68.

    Our diversity monitoring report for 2012 indicates a reduction in the level of disproportionality for BME solicitors for key regulatory areas covered in the report when compared to total number of individuals involved in conduct and regulatory investigations that year. Nevertheless, BME solicitors are still over represented in the SRA's work as compared to the practising population and we have been working for some time to investigate and better understand the reasons for this disproportionality. The latest step in our ongoing work to address this, was to commission an Independent Comparative Case Review, which is being led by Professor Gus John. We will take forward any recommendations as part of our work plan for 2013/14.

  • 69.

    Our priority for next year will be to support the SRA's continuing development as a risk based outcomes-focused regulator, as well as continuing with our work to address disproportionality and exploring new ways to engage positively with the profession.