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Does size matter? Gender-based equal opportunity in UK small and medium enterprises

Woodhams, Carol A. and Lupton, Benjamin (2006) Does size matter? Gender-based equal opportunity in UK small and medium enterprises. Women in management review, 21 (2). pp. 143-169. ISSN 1754-2421

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Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to examine the take up of gender-based equal opportunities policies and practices in small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and explores the relationship between size and take up within the SME sector. The paper draws on detailed data generated by a European Social Fund sponsored equality audit tool (breakthrough). This is an interactive, questionnaire-based programme incorporating 60 questions on human resources policies and practices relevant to gender-based equal opportunity. The questionnaire was administered within a structured interview, which was recorded and transcribed. In the North West of England, 80 SMEs, across a range of sectors, participated. The data revealed that, while there was some evidence of take up of good equality practice in SMEs, many small businesses were not active in this area and indeed a sizeable minority were perpetuating discriminatory practices. Medium-sized organisations were more likely to have, and implement, equality policies than small ones. However, in one area, around flexibility to meet carer responsibilities, the small organisations performed better. Analysis of moderating variables suggests that it is factors related to size, rather than size per se, that explain the differences in take up between small- and medium-sized firms. The paper highlights the need to find ways to engage SME managers with the equality agenda. It explores the distinctive features of the small firms and their environment which may inhibit this at present and set out an agenda for future research which will deepen understanding in this area and inform policy.

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