SRA Progress on Equality and Diversity 2013

July 2014

Introduction

  • 1.

    Our Equality Framework, published in July 2011, set out our nine equality objectives for 2011-2012. In 2013 we continued our work to meet these equality objectives and our progress is reported 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.

Our role as an employer

  • 2.

    As part of the Law Society Group, the HR function supports both the SRA and the Law Society and works to the following vision statement:

    The Law Society Group vision is to build an exemplary organisation through the quality of our people. We are working to develop an environment that inspires and enables people to perform at their best, where people feel valued and motivated.

    We recognise that the wide range of skills and experience that our staff bring are of great value to the business and we are committed to fostering an environment where people from diverse backgrounds can contribute to the growth of the organisation and the delivery of exemplary services in a highly competitive environment.

  • 3.

    The HR team has been working closely with the Senior Management Team, the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee and staff across the SRA in developing a diversity programme that is responsive to the needs of the staff.

  • 4.

    We recognise that optimising the benefits of diversity means that we need to manage individual differences in a way that capitalises on them. Supporting individual differences will serve to benefit the individual in their growth and development and it will also benefit the organisation as a whole in the delivery of its regulatory function.

  • 5.

    In this section we will:

    • set out the steps we have taken to deliver our vision for HR at the SRA; and
    • review our progress in promoting the diversity of our staff, Board and Committee members.
     

Delivering our vision for HR

  • 6.

    A number of activities have been undertaken to deliver our vision for HR, including the revision of all our HR policies to ensure that they are fit for purpose and reflect our new approach, including the Diversity Policy and the Dignity at Work Policy.

  • 7.

    To help us better understand concerns raised by staff about bullying and harassment in our previous staff surveys, we carried out an Equality, Dignity and Respect at Work survey in September 2013. We have been developing an action plan based on the survey responses to address the concerns raised.

  • 8.

    Diversity and inclusion has been built into existing training programmes and there are specific modules being developed focussing on unconscious bias in recruitment and selection, managing a diverse workforce (as part of our Managing with Confidence programme), and inclusive leadership coaching for senior managers.

  • 9.

    In addition to our wider training programme, we are continuing to support staff teams with advice, bespoke training and updates on equality and diversity issues arising in their work, for example providing reasonable adjustments and handling complaints of discrimination.

Diversity profile of our workforce

  • 10.

    We analyse our workforce diversity data quarterly so that we have a more detailed understanding of the needs of our staff and the impact of our workplace policies, procedures and culture on staff. The data from these reports is broken down by six equality strands, and covers the whole employment cycle, from applications for employment to leavers. We are adapting our systems so that we can collect data in respect of gender reassignment in the future.

  • 11.

    At the end of December 2013, we had 554 permanent employees and the full staff diversity data set is published on our website. A summary of the diversity profile is set out below with the figures for the previous year (June 2012) in brackets where they are different:

    • 63% (70%) of our staff are female and 37% (30%) male;
    • 2% of our staff stated they are disabled;
    • 3% (1%) of our staff are gay, lesbian or bisexual;
    • 15% (14%) of our staff are from BME groups of whom 13% (11%) are Asian, 1% are Black, and 1% (2%) are from a mixed background.
     
  • 12.

    Although we are generally becoming more diverse as a staff group, detailed analysis of the demographic profile of the workforce in 2013 suggests that there are areas of underrepresentation, similar to those previously identified. We will continue to monitor these patterns and trends and we are considering the implementation of initiatives to address them.

Our Board Members, Committee Members and Adjudicators

  • 13.

    In 2011, we started publishing the ethnicity and gender breakdown for the SRA Board, Committees and adjudicators. The Board has 15 members and at the beginning of January 2014, the gender breakdown was nine male and six female members and the ethnicity breakdown is 13 white and two BME members.

  • 14.

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

  • 15.

    In addition to the Chief Adjudicator, we have two full time internal adjudicators and 13 external panel adjudicators who make decisions about regulatory matters. Although there has been a reduction in the overall number since last year, the diversity profile has remained similar. Of these 16 individuals: ten are legally qualified and six are lay; 13 are female and three are male; 11 are white, and five are BME.

Our work as a regulator

  • 16.

    To support us in delivering against our Equality Framework, we have continued to pursue two initiatives adopted last year: the inclusion champions, who are now part of our wider Business Champions community; and the internal benchmarking tool we developed to ensure all areas of the organisation are delivering against our Equality Framework.

  • 17.

    The internal benchmarking tool sets performance indicators to make sure that equality and diversity is consistently mainstreamed into the work of individual directorates and business units. By the end of 2013, 70% of the business was able to demonstrate their compliance with level 1 of the benchmarking tool and the Business Champions worked closely with units and directorates to provide guidance and support.

  • 18.

    In this section we will focus on our regulatory work and the areas we have been working on during 2013 to meet the following equality objectives:

    • our work to promote diversity in the profession and compliance with Principle 9;
    • monitoring and evaluating our regulatory decision making and addressing disproportionality;
    • engaging with the profession about equality and diversity; and
    • improving how we respond to those in the profession with a disability.
     

Promoting diversity in the profession and compliance with Principle 9

Diversity in the profession

  • 19.

    There has been a continuing upward trend in the proportion of BME and female practising solicitors in the profession as a whole. For a full breakdown see the annual diversity monitoring report for 2013. Below are some of the headline figures for the total practising population where the equality data is known:

    • there was a very slight increase in the proportion of women in the profession although for both years the figure rounds up to 47%;
    • there was an increase in the proportion of solicitors in the profession from a BME background, up from 14% to 15%. This group was made up of 8% Asian, 2% Black, 1% Chinese, 1% Mixed and 2% of solicitors from other ethnic backgrounds;
    • there was a small change in the age profile of the profession, with a 1% fall in solicitors aged between 22 and 30 (from 13% to 14%) and a 1% rise in solicitors aged between 51 and 60 (from 16% to 17%);
    • only 1% of the practising population has declared a disability.
     
  • 20.

    We have provided some cross strand data again this year which shows very similar patterns to last year:

    • Female solicitors and BME solicitors are more concentrated in the younger age categories (from 22 to 40); and
    • There are proportionately more female solicitors in the profession from a BME background than there are men.
     
  • 21.

    For the first time this year, we have provided diversity data for regulated individuals broken down by firms of differing sizes. This shows:

    • Regulated individuals from a BME background are significantly over represented in small firms;
    • Women are under represented in small firms;
    • The proportion of regulated individuals under 40 increases with firm size and this contrasts to the proportion of regulated individuals over the age of 50 which decreases with firm size; and
    • The proportion of regulated individuals who have informed us they have a disability, decreases with firm size.
     
  • 22.

    In our Risk Outlook 2013/14 published in July 2013, and subsequent updates, one of the current and continuing risks is the lack of a diverse and representative profession. Although the profession as a whole is increasingly diverse, there is a lack of diversity in senior roles in many law firms which indicates there are barriers to progression particularly for women, people from an ethnic minority background and people from less affluent socio-economic backgrounds. This is evidenced in the Workforce Diversity Data Report 2013/14 published on our website in addition to the other sources referred to in the Risk Outlook.

  • 23.

    We have continued to engage with firms about Principle 9 (encouraging equality of opportunity and respect for diversity) and in 2013 began visiting larger firms to discuss their approach to this area. These visits ensure we are maintaining our focus on equality and diversity and have involved us challenging firms on the actions they are taking to mitigate the risks we have identified.

Workforce diversity data collection

  • 24.

    One of the main reasons the Legal Services Board introduced the requirement for firms to collect workforce diversity data is to promote transparency at a firm level. For many firms, it will be a key part of compliance with Principle 9 and the data will provide firms with useful baseline evidence to review their personnel and recruitment policies. We hope firms will use the exercise as a starting point for engagement with their employees about equality and diversity within the firm.

  • 25.

    The second annual Workforce Diversity Data Report 2013/14 shows little change from last year in the diversity profile for age, disability, gender, ethnicity and religion across the profession.

  • 26.

    In 2013 firms were required to make their own arrangements to collect the data and report it to us online via their mySRA account. 86% of firms had reported their data to us after we extended the reporting deadline from 31 January to 25 February 2014.

  • 27.

    There was a 10% increase in the number of individuals responding this year, but there was also an increase in the proportion of respondents who selected the 'prefer not to say' option for one or more of the questions. For the sexual orientation, religion, education and caring questions the individuals selecting 'prefer not to say' more than doubled this year.

  • 28.

    There were some problems with the online reporting arrangements which made it difficult for some people to access and use the system. We appreciate the efforts that the vast majority of firms made to report this data to us and we are working to improve the user experience for next time.

  • 29.

    We referred just over 1,000 firms to Supervision in March 2014 because they had not reported any data to us and the enforcement team has been engaging with these firms. The majority have now complied but we are considering appropriate enforcement action where necessary against the others.

Access to the profession

  • 30.

    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 2013 we continued with various initiatives to support this.

  • 31.

    The Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) research report was published in June 2013 and made a number of recommendations about the future regulation of legal education and training. In response to this review, we launched Training for Tomorrow and are working to ensure that equality and diversity is embedded within all aspects of the programme.

Monitoring regulatory outcomes and addressing disproportionality

  • 32.

    There continues to be disproportionality for BME solicitors in reports received by the SRA and the outcomes of the work that we do in response to those reports. The 2013 monitoring report provides a detailed diversity breakdown for solicitors and firms involved in key areas of our regulatory work.

  • 33.

    We have been working for some time to investigate and better understand the reasons for this disproportionality, focusing in particular on BME solicitors. The most recent investigation that we have commissioned was the Independent Comparative Case Review (ICCR) led by Professor Gus John. The ICCR report progressed through 2013, with Professor John comparing 160 cases concerning white and BME solicitors who had been disciplined by the SRA or the SDT.

  • 34.

    In September 2013, the scope of the work increased to include an examination of the impact of outcomes-focused regulation and to conduct two surveys of external advocates who represented the SRA at the SDT and respondents who had been subject to regulatory sanctions by the SRA or the SDT.

  • 35.

    The ICCR report was published in March 2014 and we have now published our response to the report, which will inform our equality objectives and equality action plan for 2014/18.

Engaging with the profession about equality and diversity

  • 36.

    We have continued to engage with the profession about our work and specifically with equality groups. We have regular meetings with a number of groups including BME groups (through the Equality Implementation Group), the Lawyers with Disabilities Division and the Sole Practitioners Group.

  • 37.

    In addition, we have been communicating with the profession and publishing information about a range of equality and diversity matters:

    • In May 2013 we published the second issue of Diversity in the Profession, a newsletter designed to keep solicitors informed about the diversity issues facing the profession and our efforts to promote equality and diversity within the SRA.
    • Throughout 2013 we provided information to the profession through SRA Update, the legal press, a webinar and our website about the workforce diversity requirements and what was expected of firms in terms of collecting, reporting and publishing their data.
     

Improving how we respond to those in the profession with a disability

  • 38.

    We continue to monitor the number of reasonable adjustment requests we receive from the profession that come mainly through our contact centre.

  • 39.

    In 2013 we received 93 requests, only slightly fewer that last year, mainly relating 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.

The SRA - understanding and responding to consumers

  • 40.

    The SRA's consumer affairs strategy outlining our approach to empowering consumers continued to shape our work in 2013 with a focus on education and engagement with members of the public.

  • 41.

    Much of the progress we have achieved in this area is set out in our annual report for consumers 'A better deal' 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
    • the launch on our consumer online platform Legal Choices.
     

Research and engagement

  • 42.

    During 2013 we started two new research projects to help us understand more about the experiences of diverse groups of consumers.

  • 43.

    The first of these is considering the impact on consumers caught up in the processes of an intervention by the SRA to close down a firm . We are looking at the extent to which people are supported with the right information as well as other impacts that they may experience.

  • 44.

    The second project will be looking at the quality of legal services for asylum seekers. We will focus on barriers experienced by people requiring these services as well as the risks associated with legal services in this area more generally. The project will help us understand the needs and experiences of these consumers who can be extremely vulnerable and at risk of disadvantage.

  • 45.

    We have continued to build new links with and work alongside organisations that provide support to vulnerable and disadvantaged people to understand more about the issues people can face when they need to access legal services. One of these organisations is Citizens Advice and we have worked alongside them at a national and regional level to help get information out to communities that rely on their services.

  • 46.

    We have also discussed a range of issues affecting disabled people through the SRA’s Forum on Disability where we aim to provide a voice for charities representing the interests of disabled people to feedback to us about barriers and problems experienced in accessing and using legal services.

Legal choices

  • 47.

    The SRA and six other legal regulators launched the new website "Legal Choices" (www.legalchoices.org.uk) in January 2014, which aims to help people when they experience legal issues and may need to get help from a lawyer.

  • 48.

    The website content was developed following engagement with diverse groups of consumers in cities and towns across England and Wales. The software within the site supports the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 which set accessibility standards for people using the internet. It also includes links to the Google Translate service to support users with specific language preferences to access the content, as well as some Easy Read explanations. As further development is carried out on the website, we will make sure that it continues to be as accessible as possible and makes use of the latest tools and resources in this area.

Conclusions

  • 49.

    In 2013 we have made progress in embedding equality and diversity in our organisation and in our regulatory work against a background of significant change.

  • 50.

    As an employer, we have developed a clear vision for diversity in relation to our staff and the organisation we wish to be and this will help us take a more coordinated approach going forward. We have more to do in developing the culture we need to deliver our new approach to regulation and this work is progressing with renewed vigour since our new Chief Executive, Paul Philip joined the SRA in February 2014.

  • 51.

    As a regulator, we have focused on a number of large projects in meeting our equality objectives such as the workforce diversity data collection exercise, the Training for Tomorrow programme and supporting Professor John's Independent Comparative Case Review. The findings from the review have helped shape our plans for continuing our work in promoting equality and diversity in the profession and in our work at the SRA.

  • 52.

    In relation to consumers, we will continue with our research to understand the needs of vulnerable consumers and develop our engagement with consumers in particular through the new Legal Choices website.

  • 53.

    As we develop our new approach to regulation, described in the policy statement published in May 2014, we will set ourselves challenging equality objectives and actions for 2014/18 which will support our new approach to regulation and the work we are doing to transform the organisation.