Equality and diversity monitoring - will you be ready?
In May, Alan Milburn provided the update to his original 2009 Fair Access to Professional Careers report, and concluded that the legal profession is on the right track in addressing fair access to the profession but progress is too slow.
There’s some good news and some bad news about how the profession is responding to the challenge of equal and fair access. And beyond that, once someone has been recruited and is in place, how well is equality and diversity faring? Last year, the Legal Services Board published guidance to all approved regulators, proposing that they should require firms to conduct a diversity monitoring exercise. This would ask every individual in their workforce to self-classify against eight characteristics: age, gender, disability, ethnic group, religion or belief, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, and caring responsibilities.
This guidance also proposed that the regulators should require firms to publish an anonymised summary of the findings across all characteristics, except in relation to sexual orientation and religion/belief. This guidance was due for implementation in 2012, but a one-year extension has just been granted to the regulators to get the systems in place for reporting - giving us all breathing space.
But it’s not enough to forget about it until next year. Equality and diversity is an issue to be taken seriously, the government is fully behind the LSB and although Alan Milburn’s report does acknowledge that the profession is on the right track, with fairness in accessing the profession, there is still that concern he voiced about progress being too slow and that entry to the law is still too socially exclusive.
An equality and diversity thematic pilot is proposed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority this year to obtain data about the diversity profile of the profession. Firms will then have to report on equality and diversity issues in the annual reporting cycle from 2013. So, as firms grapple with outcomes-focused regulation and annual reporting of breaches of the Handbook and accounts rules, this will be another area where firms will need to collect data and report for the SRA.
If you haven’t yet started monitoring equality and diversity in your firm then you should start now - so that you have the systems and procedures in place to produce information for the annual report.
Jeanette Lucy is a director heading up compliance, quality and learning with law firm network LawNet