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Diversity analysis of ICAEW probate firms highlights progress


Published: 14 Sep 2023

New report presents a useful snapshot of the diversity of accountancy firms amid growing recognition of the need to create a workforce that can meet the changing requirements of an increasingly diverse society.

ICAEW has welcomed the findings of new diversity analysis that highlights improvements in representation across areas including race, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic background across firms offering probate services.

Published this week, the results of the diversity monitoring of 329 of the 353 ICAEW-regulated probate firms, between them employing around 9,000 staff, covers all nine protected characteristics as well as aspects of social mobility.

To provide the wider national context, the report draws comparisons from Census 2021 data about those of working age released by the Office for National Statistics covering England and Wales, as well as data supplied by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). This year’s data shows some interesting changes when compared with the results of previous surveys.

Probate Diversity Report page

Those with disabilities better represented

Responses suggest people with disabilities are becoming better represented in ICAEW probate accredited firms, with steady increases in the proportion of staff with a disability as defined in the Equality Act, and of staff whose day-to-day activities are limited by a long-term health problem or disability.

At the same time, the proportion of lesbian, gay or bisexual staff in ICAEW probate accredited firms has risen from 2% in 2019 and 2021 to 4% in 2023, and is now in line with the national and SRA figures.

Ethnic minority representation increases

Meanwhile, the proportion of people from an ethnic minority group working in ICAEW-regulated probate firms has also risen (from 11% in 2021 to 13% currently), with this primarily down to greater numbers of staff from an Asian/Asian British background.

Sophie Wales, ICAEW’s Head of Regulatory Affairs and Policy, said: “Collecting diversity data on our probate firms gives a really useful picture of how diversity is evolving in our firms that provide legal services. The findings also support our firms in creating a workforce that can meet the changing needs of an increasingly diverse society.

“We’re pleased to see some positive progress in this year’s results, and we look forward to continuing to support our firms in making chartered accountancy a truly diverse and inclusive profession.”

However, the report also shows that despite the positive trends highlighted, there is also more to be done. In particular, those with a disability, those from a Black/African/Caribbean/Black British background, and those of Muslim faith are still under-represented in comparison with the overall population of England and Wales.

The report is part of the ICAEW Regulatory Board’s regulatory obligations under the Legal Services and Equality Acts; all firms accredited for probate services are required to collect, report and publish diversity data about their employees.

Report presents snapshot of accountancy as a whole

However, ICAEW’s commitment to diversity also supports ICAEW’s strategic objective to attract talent and build diversity within the profession. The data informs ICAEW and its stakeholders about the relevance of itself and its member firms as a supplier of personal professional services to the UK public.

Representing around 4% of the firms that ICAEW oversees, the survey is a microcosm of the diversity of our members and firms, and presents a useful snapshot of how diversity is developing within accountancy firms as a whole.

The report highlights the importance of flexible working as a tool for improving diversity, and there are signs that firms are increasingly offering this option to staff who take maternity or paternity leave.

Over one in 10 staff at ICAEW probate accredited firms have taken maternity or paternity leave in the previous five years. Most of this group were offered flexible working arrangements by their employer (75%, up from 69% in 2021) and an increased proportion reported that the ability to work from home had facilitated their return to work (62%, up from 51% in 2021).

Social mobility and social responsibility

The socio-economic data suggests good accessibility to probate firms. Over a quarter (29%) of those working for ICAEW probate accredited firms indicated that their parents/guardians had no formal qualifications or had those below A-level/vocational, and the same proportion (29%) were the first generation of their family to attend university. More than three-quarters (78%) attended a UK state school, and typically this was non-selective.

In terms of social mobility, almost half (48%) of staff in ICAEW probate accredited firms have achieved a degree-level qualification, whereas only 28% reported that either of their parents/guardians had done this. Around one in 10 staff are from a household that received income support, with a similar proportion entitled to free school meals during their childhood.

This year, for the first time, ICAEW will be offering the online survey tool used to carry out this survey to non-probate accredited firms. The aim is to make it easier for firms to collect their own diversity data, if they wish to do so. The online tool is due to go live by the end of the year.

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