It’s that time again!
It may feel like you have only just submitted your last round of diversity data to the SRA. But it has already been 2 years and it is almost time to do it all over again.
When do we have to do the data collection?
Just last week, the SRA announced the dates for this years’ submission. From the 5th July 2021, you will have four weeks to submit your data to the regulator, although you should now start collating your firms’ data in readiness to report.
The SRA views a lack of diversity as a core risk to the profession. It has been a recurring theme of the SRA Risk Outlook for many years.
Rule 1.5 of the Code of Conduct for Firms makes the requirement to collect, report and publish diversity data mandatory. It is also important for fulfilling Principle 6 (‘act in a way that encourages equality, diversity and inclusion’).
Is the exercise the same as last time?
Things have changed a little for the 2021 questionnaire – namely, some questions have been updated in light of more recent guidance and consideration of more recent research.
You can find out the specifics here if you are interested, but in summary some changes have been made to the following questions:
- socio-economic background,
- ethnicity, sex and gender identity,
- religion or belief,
- sexual orientation.
Who needs to collect diversity data?
Every firm regulated by the SRA, no matter what size.
What you need to do
The exercise can be broken down into 3 stages:
Stage 1 – Collect your firms’ diversity data
Stage 2 – Report to the SRA
Stage 3 – Publish the data
Stage 1 – Collect your firm’s diversity data
You should attempt to collect information from everyone in the firm, including full and part-time employees, those on maternity leave, those on long term sick (only if they are on contact with the firm and are willing to take part), and temporary employees (including consultants) who are with you for at least 3 months.
People normally based outside of England and Wales, barristers or other experts, and those instructed for outsourced work by the firm do not need to take part.
The updated 2021 questionnaire can be found here.
Everyone must be put into a ‘role category’ (solicitors, partners, managers etc.). You need to ensure your staff know which category they fall in to. If an employee falls into more than one category, you need to make a decision about which one reflects their main role the best and use that one.
When you send the diversity questionnaire to your employees, the covering email or letter should include the following information:
- Why you are collecting the data (you may want to go beyond ‘it is an SRA obligation’)
- That there is no requirement to answer every question or even the questionnaire at all and that they can answer ‘prefer not to say’ to any question
- What you will do with the information i.e.:
- Report to the SRA
- Publish a summary of the data, which will be done in a way that doesn’t identify individuals (see stage 3 below)
- How long you will store the data and who will have access to it
- Who they need to contact to correct or request information the firm holds in relation to the exercise
It may be worth underlining that all regulated firms have to make a submission. Reminding them that it is anonymous may encourage responses.
But remember that nobody is compelled to complete the questionnaire. The SRA accepts that you will have a percentage of non-responders and you will be able to report this information to them. However, if you have 100 employees and only 2 responses, you are likely to be challenged by the regulator.
It is essential to be aware of data protection legislation before you begin this process. If the survey is truly anonymous then the data is no longer classed as personal data and falls outside of data protection. The requirement for consent (or another ‘lawful basis’) falls away.
But anonymity can be much more difficult is small firms. Data submitted is potentially identifiable. If you have one male partner and one female partner, it will be pretty obvious whose responses are whose.
You should review and draw attention to your employee privacy notice and ensure you are relying on a lawful basis to process the data. Consent is the obvious choice, but there are potentially others.
Stage 2 – Report to the SRA
You will need to report your diversity data in the four weeks following 5th July 2021. No, we do not know why they don’t just give a deadline like normal people.
You will not be able to access your firm’s previous diversity data from the reporting site – if you need it, you have to contact the Diversity Team on 0370 606 2555 or email@example.com.
Stage 3 – Publishing the data
The final step is to publish a summary of your diversity data. The SRA provides examples of how to comply with this step.
You will need to ensure that any data published does not identify any individuals, which can be problematic for smaller firms.
If you cannot publish diversity data without identifying individuals, you are not required to publish your diversity data. It would likely be a breach of data protection law. It is good practice to record your decision not to publish.
For larger firms the data published should be more meaningful. It could also form part of the firm’s wider diversity strategy.
Remember, you do not have to include sensitive information relating to religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status.
The data can be published on your website. This should be the default option for most firms. Consider a dedicated ‘Diversity’ link. If you do not have a website or there is some other reason why you should not publish online, you can put up a poster in reception or perhaps put a pamphlet together.
What would happen if you decide to ignore the diversity exercise? The SRA has been clear that it is a regulatory requirement (remember Rule 1.5). Failure to comply may result in them ‘taking further action’ against the firm or its managers.
mySRA Diversity Data
Please note that this exercise is not to be confused with the recent request from the SRA for all individuals to update their mySRA diversity information.
The data provided in mySRA is personal to the individual and the firm cannot enter it for you. The information provided here will be used to reporting, research and evaluation purposes. The SRA will also use it to improve how it regulates and plans, to ensure fairness and inclusiveness.
This 2021 round of diversity data collection covers everyone at the firm – not just solicitors. It is reported to the SRA anonymously and is used to create a much more detailed view of diversity throughout the profession.