Legal services regulators are good at collecting diversity data - but do not know what to do with it, a new study has found.
The Bridge Group, commissioned by the Legal Services Board to review efforts to promote diversity and inclusion, found evidence of only ‘modest activity’ among frontline regulators and a ‘weak’ evidence base for what was effective.
This stems from ambiguity about what action consists of, dispersed responsibility and accountability, and different understanding between stakeholders about what effective change means. The 74-page report said that diversity data collection and analysis have been the main focus of the regulators but has been ‘equivocal’, its implementation ‘variable’ and has resulted in only ‘minor change’.
The report added: ‘The extent of current interventions beyond data monitoring is sometimes opaque and, although there is much activity taking place, there appears to be a lack of strategic approach and collaboration between regulators.’
Analysts said that despite significant rhetoric in relation to diversity and/or inclusion in the legal sector, the profession is still characterised by ‘vertical and horizontal segregation’, as women and people from ethnic minorities are often concentrated in areas that are lower paid and/or less senior.
When it comes to data collection, there was ‘considerable uncertainty’ among lawyers about its purpose and use, with concerns that data being asked for was too personal and a lack of trust and confidence about why certain questions were being asked. Regulated bodies found requests for data could be too invasive, it was unclear what purpose they served, and there was distrust about what the data would be used for.
The report found no consistency within regulators about how they manage and approach diversity and inclusion issues or how they report on these matters. While regulators expressed a desire to evaluate the data collected, they often commented that this places pressure on finite resources, and there was not the expertise and standardised approach to do it properly.
Regulators also said there was a lack of clarity about what the LSB expected of them or what initiatives were aimed at achieving. The report added: ‘While reasons for inaction might be characterised as buck-passing, it is possible that there is a lack of clarity and understanding on both sides.’
The report recommends that all sides take a more systematic approach and be specific about why they are collecting data. The LSB has said it will work with regulators to encourage information sharing and cohesion.