Equal Opportunities Practices and Enterprise Performance: An Investigation based on Australian and British Data

Professor Virginie Pérotin2, Dr. Andrew Robinson and Dr. Joanne Loundes were commissioned by the ILO to write this Working Paper, as an input for the preparation of the ILO Director-General’s Global Report to the 2003 session of the International Labour Conference3. The paper examines the incidence of policies and practices for combatting discrimination and promoting equal opportunities among enterprises in Britain and Australia, and investigates the factors that lead enterprises to adopt such practices and their effect on productivity. The paper focuses on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and compares their case with that of larger firms at each stage of the analysis.

Several decades of anti-discrimination legislation has shown the importance of action at enterprise level to remove direct and indirect discrimination and promote diversity and equality of opportunities for all groups of employees. The paper argues that public policies to encourage or require all enterprises to adopt equal opportunity practices can be made more effective if they take into account the effect of the practices on enterprise performance. Britain and Australia have had anti-discrimination legislation for three decades and both countries have recently been encouraging enterprises to adopt equal opportunities practices. However, the two countries have had different approaches (voluntary or mandatory). Comparison between the two countries thus allows the paper to examine the options for public policy, and in particular the extent to which a more constraining approach may be practicable.