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Diversity reporting FAQs

A list of frequently asked questions around the subject of diversity reporting in probate including requirements, statutory and social relevance and how ICAEW handles sensitivity of data.

What is the requirement to monitor diversity?

All probate firms must monitor the diversity of their principals and employees. ICAEW collects this information every two years. Further information is found on ICAEW’s probate diversity data collection website which includes any applicable questionnaire templates during the reporting period.

A firm accredited for probate services should publish its diversity monitoring data on its website in a format of its choice. If the firm does not have a website, it must still publish the data on an appropriate form of documentation, for example as a paragraph in a letter of engagement or in advertising materials. If the anonymity of individual members of staff may be compromised, it should adapt the information it publishes accordingly, such as by only publishing less-sensitive data.

Why was diversity reporting only introduced in 2017?
When the Legal Services Board (LSB) asked ICAEW to introduce diversity reporting as part of the accreditation application process, ICAEW felt this would discourage firms from applying. It accordingly asked for the information (only if available) in applications and advised firms they need to provide this data on a periodic basis – reinforced by Probate Regulation 2.7(s). To allow firms time to comply, ICAEW waited until 2017 before formally asking for this information.
What is the statutory relevance of diversity reporting to probate?

The relevance and appropriateness of the reporting to probate has two principal drivers: statutory and voluntary.

ICAEW has two obligations under statute law. Under the Equalities Act 2010, ICAEW is listed in Schedule 19 as one of the bodies required to apply the equality duty under section 149 as part of its regulatory functions. This has an obligation to have due regard to diversity, and case law has since indicated that doing nothing is not an option. ICAEW has developed a vision and policy around diversity. Monitoring provides data to support key performance indicators to indicate progress in its initiatives.

A second statutory obligation relating to probate firms is that arising from Section 1 of the Legal Services Act 2007. Regulators such as ICAEW, in discharging their duties, are required to meet the eight statutory objectives, one of which is based on diversity. The Legal Services Board (LSB) issued guidance in 2011 (updated in January 2017) indicating they viewed this requirement as relating to the 10 protected characteristics under the Equalities Act 2010. As part of the guidelines the LSB indicated they expected regulators to require monitoring of this data by the firms they regulate and periodic reporting of it.

What is the social relevance of diversity reporting to probate?

ICAEW has placed a greater emphasis on diversity in the profession in recent years. One driver has been the social mobility programme of the government – and Liz Truss in her first speech in the House of Commons as Lord Chancellor referred to this as an issue for the legal profession. A second has been the evolution of practice as predicted by ICAEW’s Tomorrow’s Practice initiative where major changes in work patterns are expected. The monitoring work provides ICAEW with evidential support to indicate how firms may be adapting to the changes envisaged in that document. 

At a tactical level, the intent is that firms consider their marketing strength and options taking diversity into account and adapting their marketing and recruitment strategies. They also provide some insight into retention issues. The due regard for diversity is not actually using it as a sole driver, but rather as an informative strand in shaping other policy. The monitoring data and trends help steer a practice in its chosen direction.

How is the sensitivity of the data addressed by ICAEW?

The sensitivity of the data is very important to ICAEW. It is mindful of its obligations and those of the firms with regard to data protection. ICAEW requests that firms only send their aggregated results and that ICAEW must not receive individual staff responses.

ICAEW is providing its firms with free access to an online survey tool for 2021 which will provide an additional layer of anonymity and ensure your own staff do not need to see individual responses at any stage.

Why is the scope of questions so wide?

There are several drivers that have influenced the survey questions.

  1. The Legal Services Board have set ten key questions which should be reported on to comply with the probate regulations.
  2. ICAEW's own commitment to supporting the diversity agenda, ensuring that the profession is a truly inclusive one.
  3. ICAEW's vision of practices of the future envisages a lot more home working which would enable members restricted by caring responsibilities, maternity and paternity obligations,  or disability to move back into or stay with the profession. These statistics help ICAEW monitor that development. The impact of coronavirus in particular will be effecting a change in this dynamic which we wish to measure.
  4. The Cabinet Office's drive to improve social mobility and greater inclusion in the accountancy profession, which is also an important part of ICAEW's own strategy over the next 5 years.
  5. The data helps ICAEW fulfil its regulatory responsibility to regulate and monitor firms in the future according to the way the profession is evolving.
 
Why has the list of questions been expanded?
The Legal Services Board have asked that the regulators add questions around matrimony and maternity to ensure all the protected characteristics are covered by the biennial reporting. We have framed these questions in the context of practice development.
Is there anything to mandate employees to respond in the regulations? In that case, is “prefer not to say” the appropriate response when reporting to ICAEW?
No. The mandate is for firms to collect the data and not for employees to complete the survey. The "prefer not to say" option is available for all questions although firms may want to ask themselves as an organisation why an employee might not be willing to respond to any of the questions. Does this reflect any underlying cultural issues that need to be addressed?
What if an organisation is not in a position to carry out the administration of this requirement?
Notice was given on the probate application form that this data would be needed at some stage. ICAEW has given firms as much notice as possible to organise their processes. This data can perhaps be collected as part of an annual routine with staff. Third party survey providers can facilitate this process at low cost and at minimal disruption to management time.
What if there is a subsidiary company with no employees?

There are situations where a firm may have a subsidiary company that is regulated for probate. As an example, a company may have no employees and just one principal, with employees of a holding company carrying out work for the probate regulated company.

The regulations require firms to monitor the diversity of the people carrying out the probate work. ICAEW would therefore recommend that the diversity of the whole group is monitored as a best practice approach. Clients that engage with the firm are likely to see a number of members of staff and not just a single practitioner.

It is important not to see the survey as simply something that must be done to comply with regulations but rather as a marketing tool whereby firms can demonstrate empathy with people from all backgrounds and walks of life. Death, and therefore probate, is highly inclusive and gives a wide market base. Widening the survey to as many members of staff as possible is advantageous to a firm. ICAEW does not expect a firm to include any data that compromises a member of staff’s anonymity.

If firms’ employees respond with "prefer not to answer", how is this useful to ICAEW?
The metric ‘prefer not to answer’ is an important metric. It may be a statement of how staff feel about being ‘themselves’ at work. It may reflect the culture of the firm in terms of how staff feel they can interact with each other, management and clients. If management feel their policies should encourage a happy and open workforce, large ‘prefer not to answer’ percentages may suggest that all may not be quite right and some further investigation may be required.
If a firm’s employees respond with "prefer not to answer", how is this useful to that firm?
Sometimes strange diversity statistics are symptomatic of much wider issues in strategy as a whole; benefits packages, overtime demands and the needs of sole practitioners are examples of areas that have been amended for problems identified through diversity metrics.
Will ICAEW contact staff at the firm to collect the data and forward the results to the firm?
No, due to the introduction of the GDPR in May 2018, ICAEW has ceased collecting data on behalf of its firms.
Are there any companies that can help firms collate this data?
Yes. An online survey tool will be provided at no cost for ICAEW firms in 2021. ICAEW firms will be encouraged to use this tool to collect, collate and anonymise their data. More information including how to create your firm’s online survey will be published in the next few weeks.
Where can a firm find its company number that needs to be submitted with the aggregated results?

A firm’s C00XXXXX ICAEW firm reference number can be found on most correspondence from ICAEW.

ICAEW’s Technical Advisory team are happy to help a firm to confirm the correct reference number and can be contacted by calling +44 (0)1908 248 250.

Where should a firm comment about diversity on its website?
ICAEW suggests the general "about the firm" page as a sensible place to include the diversity data.
 
What information should be published by sole practitioners?

It is recommended that sole practitioners publish a sentence or two confirming that their firm is an inclusive organisation and that they welcome everyone through the door. A commitment to collect diversity data could be included if the firm were to expand in the future.

Another way to approach this might be for the sole practitioner to include some information in their biography that highlights a particular area of expertise including working with diverse cultures. ICAEW does not expect a sole practitioner to publish any data that they do not wish to be made public.

What information should be published by firms with a very small number of employees?
ICAEW do not expect a firm to publish data that compromises a member of staff’s anonymity. Therefore, a high-level statement can be published explaining that some questions have been omitted from the results for data protection reasons but it should be possible for a firm to include some basic information about its staff.
Are firms required to disclose a statement to ICAEW as well as results from the exercise?
Yes. ICAEW requires just a few sentences from the firm which state the messages the data has shown them as an organisation. For example, any future plans to promote female engagement, or engagement with a particular ethnic community or faith. This is an indication that the firm has received and considered the information as part of management of the practice.