Reaching out to Small Businesses
View from the Chair, Business Newsletter, Tuesday 14th February 2012
Evelyn Collins CBE, Chief Executive, Equality Commission NI
In these times of economic uncertainty, there can sometimes be a focus on large companies, multi-national corporations and the fortunes of well known brands as a barometer of how the economy is progressing. However, the fortunes of our small to medium enterprises (SMEs) should be of equal concern to us.
Of the 68,525 businesses in Northern Ireland in 2010, 98% had fewer than 50 employees. They make up the lion’s share of businesses and are considered by many economists to be the single largest engine of potential job creation and key to future economic growth here. In fact, a recent report by the CBI stated that SMEs create two thirds of all new jobs – they are the back bone of our economy and as such deserve our encouragement and support.
In a recent survey carried out in association with the Federation of Small Business, we asked SMEs which equality issues they found most difficult to deal with in the workplace. The results of the survey have helped us to focus on a number of areas which should address the needs of local businesses. We are offering practical advice and training programmes covering many of the issues raised such as recruiting staff and making redundancies, managing employees’ pregnancy and maternity arrangements and flexible working patterns.
We also have a support structure in place for all employers providing free and confidential services including a dedicated Employer Enquiry Line, model policies and web-based advice specifically targeted at smaller employers. We can provide in-house training and explain how ‘best practice’, often geared towards large business, can be tailored to fit small businesses.
We know that the vast majority of small employers genuinely want to treat their staff fairly while at the same time running their businesses as efficiently and profitably as possible. Employers will acknowledge that workers who are treated fairly are more likely to be motivated employees and to do their best for their employer. It is in the best interests of everyone, therefore, that equality in the workplace receives adequate attention in these difficult times.
The Equality Commission’s services have enjoyed a high approval rating, with almost 9 out of 10 employers satisfied with them. We would like to ensure that smaller businesses are fully benefiting from our experience and expertise and we are keen to extend our support to them.
We will be seeking to develop and extend our engagement with the business sector to ensure our work continues to remain beneficial and relevant, meeting the needs of employers in Northern Ireland.
The Equality Commission can be contacted through our advice line on 028 890 890, by email firstname.lastname@example.org