HR & Management

Sexism and ageism most common in mid-sized firms, report finds

3 min read

07 July 2014

Research released today suggests that discrimination on the basis of age, gender and employment status is highest in mid-sized businesses.

The figures from employment law firm Doyle Clayton found that just 77 per cent of employees in firms employing 50-99 people and 75 per cent in those employing 100-259 people felt they definitely hadn’t been discriminated against on the grounds of their gender. 

This compares with 97 per cent in micro businesses (1-9 employees) and 89 per cent of those in the largest companies (500+ employees). 

A similar pattern was evident for age discrimination, with 96 per cent of those in micro businesses saying their age hadn’t been a disadvantage, versus just 81 per cent in mid-sized firms. 

Employees of mid-sized firms were also most likely to say that workers who work from home, work full-time but also support a family, or spend some days working from home, are less committed to the job. 

Jessica Corsi, a partner at Doyle Clayton, the UK’s largest specialist employment law firm, said: “These findings are worrying for managers. In broad terms, in all but the smallest businesses, there is a sizeable section of employees that feels discriminated against because of sex or age.

“Putting aside the not insubstantial issue of employment tribunal claims, this indicates that many organisations will have a considerable chunk of their workforce likely to be feeling demotivated and vulnerable to being enticed away by competitors.”

So why is this the case? It would seem likely that mid-sized firms exist in a gap between the tight-knit community of a small firm, and the deeply ingrained and thorough HR processes of a big corporate.

The owner-manager of a small company is likely to be well acquainted with all of his staff, and to be in a position to make more informed decisions about them which aren’t tinged by prejudice. They are also more likely to be personally affected by any discrimination claims.

At the other end of the spectrum, large and very large businesses are likely to have numerous people responsible for employment law and HR, as well as more formal recruitment processes.

Corsi told Real Business: “Why do mid-sized businesses experience the highest levels of discrimination? 

“We can only speculate – but a likely explanation is that they tend not to have well-resourced HR departments and are less likely to have formal recruitment and staff development processes in place, meaning there is a greater risk of discriminatory practices creeping in.

“In addition, managers are less likely to be trained in how to avoid discriminating than their counterparts in larger organisations. Inexperienced, unsupported managers are more likely to make decisions based on personal prejudices without appreciating the consequences.”