The Solicitors Regulation Authority has come under fire for not specifically asking practitioners to specify their sex in its latest survey of the profession.
The regulator sends its diversity questionnaire to each firm in England and Wales every two years. The latest version does not monitor practitioners' sex, instead asking respondents what gender they identify with.
Several solicitors have pointed out on social media that sex is one of the protected characteristics stipulated by the Equality Act 2010. It was also put to the SRA that failing to ask specifically about sex would make it more difficult to determine whether firms are discriminating on this ground, or to compare with previous years.
The SRA initially tweeted in response: ‘It was felt that our previous approach, asking a binary question about biological sex, was not inclusive. Our question on gender allows people to confirm if they identify as a man, a woman, another preferred description or you can prefer not to say.
Audrey Ludwig, director of Suffolk Law Centre, asked: ‘If you do not keep accurate equality monitoring data how can you analyse trends on issues like pay gap and sex discrimination/incidents of harassment on grounds of sex?’
Freelance writer and campaigner Caroline Criado Perez tweeted: ‘I understand why orgs do this, they mean well, but less data is never the answer. Sex AND gender.’
An SRA spokesperson told the Gazette the organisation keeps all the questions in its firm diversity data collection exercise under review. It moved to the current questions on gender in 2017 and retained this approach for the 2019 collection after speaking with law firms, solicitors, government agencies, and representative bodies.
‘We took this approach in order to be inclusive, to avoid confusion and to help to monitor and promote gender equality in the profession,’ he added.
‘The response rate of 97 per cent to the new gender question in 2017 suggests that it was well received, understood and inclusive, so we have retained the question for this year’s collection.
‘We recognise that this is an area where thinking around best practice is moving at pace, so we welcome feedback, and will continue to keep our approach under review when considering how we collect data in 2021.’
The SRA is obliged to make sure there is an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession, with the data collected and published to promote inclusion.
The regulator insists it responds ‘firmly’ to complaints of discrimination based on all protected characteristics.