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3 February 2004

Small businesses in danger of discriminating

Research solution to legal maze

A RESEARCH team at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School is attracting nationwide interest for a breakthrough project that helps small businesses through the legal maze of equal opportunities.

Known as Breakthrough, the unique system identifies strengths and weaknesses in employment provision and enables a company to protect itself against claims of discrimination while promoting best practice.

Described as “the first major contribution in the area of SME research and equal opportunities,” Breakthrough has already impressed the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and the conciliation service, ACAS, who want to roll it out nationwide.

Breakthrough offers companies an instant assessment of their level of legal risk, scoring them against EOC guidance and comparing their performance to their peer group.

The project completed in December and funded by the European Social Fund, audited around 100 small and medium businesses in the North West, conducting face-to-face interviews about management style and practice with the owner or managing director.

The assessment questionnaire takes just 45 minutes and has returned completely new data about the approach to gender issues in recruitment and selection, training and pay. One revelation is that a worryingly high proportion of small employers continue to bring marital status into the job interview arena.

ACAS and the EOC are now working with the Business School to identify ways Breakthrough can be developed as a nationally accessible tool.

Dr Carol Woodhams, of MMUBS’ innovative Centre for Enterprise, who devised the system, said: “Far too many people who run small businesses have not taken on board the many changes in the law on discrimination and equal opportunities. In just 45 minutes, Breakthrough can make a risk assessment of their own circumstances and procedures with relation to the host of new of legislation in this area.”

To find out more about Breakthrough, contact The Centre for Enterprise, MMUBS on 0161 247 6615

A final report will be disseminated at a number of conferences including Women in Small Business: Current Issues in Research, jointly hosted by the Business School and Umist on 12 March and opened by MMU Vice-Chancellor Dame Alexandra Burslem.