Workplace Guides: Network Groups

Home | Introduction | The business case 
What LGB networks do | Communicating the network
Maintaining and developing the network |Top ten steps

 Setting up An LGB Network


Establishing an LGB employee network requires:


Aims and objectives

When developing a network’s aims and objectives, it is important to be clear about what the group wants to achieve. This in turn will depend on the size of the organisation, the sector it is in and its awareness of LGB issues. A good starting point is to research how the organisation fares in terms of LGB equality.

Questions to ask might include:

  • Are people policies and initiatives fully inclusive of LGB diversity?
  • Do LGB employees feel supported and comfortable being out at work?
  • What is the external reputation of the organisation among LGB people?

An LGB network could help bridge gaps that emerge. However, its aims and objectives also need to reflect the corporate agenda. Senior managers are more likely to support the initiative and give it credibility if the network is seen to serve the organisation as well as its employees.

The purpose of the network could include:

  • Championing LGB issues for employees, customers and clients
  • Contributing to the organisation’s inclusion and diversity agenda
  • Raising awareness of the impact of relevant legislation
  • Advising on policy development
  • Ensuring policy is applied in practice
  • Improving the work environment for LGB employees
  • Supporting LGB employees and enabling them to develop their careers
  • Ensuring LGB staff can be open about their sexual orientation if they want to be
  • Encouraging the recruitment and retention of talented LGB employees
  • Networking with other groups to build the profile of the organisation.

Nationwide Group Staff Union’s LGBT Advisory Committee has the following aims and objectives: Main aim – To work in partnership with Nationwide Group to create a safe, inclusive and diverse working environment that encourages a culture of respect and equality for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation, in order that every individual can reach their full potential without fear of discrimination.

Objectives

1. To be a representative group of Nationwide Group Staff Union providing advice and consultancy to Nationwide Group in relation to legislation and equality issues; to increase overall understanding in relation to legislation and equality issues; to increase overall understanding across the whole business of the difficulties and challenges faced by LGBT people, both within the organisation and in the wider community.

2. To provide a social and support network to members, who may be LGBT or have friends or family members who are LGBT, irrespective of whether or not they choose to disclose their sexual orientation.

3. To work with Nationwide Group on sexual orientation equality initiatives that benefit not only its internal employees through increased awareness and education, but also make a significant contribution to existing and potential customers and ultimately to society as a whole.

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Top-level buy-in

Our research suggests that harnessing the support of senior colleagues is critical to ensuring the long-term success of an LGB network. A good way of doing this is to seek out an executive sponsor, for example, someone with an HR or diversity remit. A message of support from a senior champion helps deter cynicism, homophobia and managers’ reluctance to allow staff to participate. It also adds credibility and clout to the group’s aims and objectives, boosting its internal profile.

However, networks that focus purely on the social aspect of the group without acknowledging the needs of the wider organisation will find it harder to get senior managers to buy in and are likely to find themselves marginalised.

Bedfordshire Gay Police Association is a local branch of the national Gay Police Association (GPA). It was set up under the existing infrastructure of the GPA with the support of the Chief Constable who saw the group as a valuable tool for furthering the force’s diversity work. The Chief Constable recognised the benefits it would provide for the workforce and the service it could offer the wider community, so allocated time to develop it. With this senior support, the group has been proactive in its outreach work with LGB communities in Bedfordshire. For example, it has developed initiatives to increase the reporting of hate crime. These have been publicised in LGB venues and on the force’s website.

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The business plan

A business plan illustrating the need for the group will keep it focused and give it credibility within the organisation. It can also help tackle cynicism or the reluctance of other staff and managers to support the group.

The business plan should set out:

  • The aims of the group
  • Proposed activities
  • The legal context
  • Benefits to the organisation, its staff and customers
  • Funding requirements
  • Operational structure
  • Key contacts

The HR manager or diversity champion should be able to help draft the network’s business plan.

The Accenture UK LGBT Network was spearheaded by an employee who had seen evidence of groups set up by competitors. She felt Accenture’s lack of engagement with LGB employees was a disadvantage for the firm, both in terms of developing existing talent and recruiting new talent. The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 were due to come into effect, and the firm was rapidly developing its diversity agenda. The employee found a mentor from another firm’s LGB network and approached a senior contact in Accenture who agreed that the firm needed to demonstrate its commitment to promoting LGB diversity. She also gathered the support of LGB colleagues through word of mouth. Together, they developed a business case for the network and used this to win the support of an executive sponsor. HR colleagues were also brought on board and lent clout and credibility to the group’s intentions.

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Structure

To be effective, an LGB network group should be embedded within the organisation. This means ensuring clear lines of communication and accountability at all levels of the organisation.

However, the structure of the network will also depend on how many people are able to take on network responsibilities. Some networks are led by one or two  co-ordinators, while others are run by an elected and/or voluntary steering committee.

In multi-site organisations, the LGB network might want to set up regional branches. These can be co-ordinated locally with strategic direction and support from head office. Holding regular national meetings can be unrealistic, so some groups hold weekend events that all members can attend.

For virtual or remote workers, the LGB network group could be a purely e-mail network that meets only occasionally in real time.


The Foreign & Commonwealth Office Lesbian & Gay Group (FLAGG) is an international group, with the majority of members on overseas postings. To facilitate their input, they are invited to contribute their views via e-mail before all meetings.

International organisations may be able to learn from, and use, the existing infrastructure of overseas LGB networks. With the support and experience of their overseas colleagues, groups can develop to meet the particular needs of UK businesses and staff.

Manchester City Council LGBT Employee Group is part of a broader support system for LGBT staff and plays an integral role in the council’s work to engage with its LGBT service users. The group is split into two sections (a full group and a core group) and is accountable to the council’s Lesbian & Gay Development Group. 

MCC LGBT Employee Group – Full Group Runs two quarterly meetings for all members – two during work time, two outside work time. These meetings usually involve updates from the core group, speaker events and discussions. 

MCC LGBT Employee Group – Core Group Consists of 10 members working on behalf of LGBT staff and the council. It meets monthly to discuss, for example, training, mentoring, the annual report, policy and sponsorship. This core group takes the concerns of the full group to the development group. 

Lesbian & Gay Development Group A group of senior officers chaired by the deputy chief executive. It has a strategic role and feeds information between senior managers and the MCC LGBT Employee Group. Its regular meetings focus on service improvement and employment issues.

To integrate LGBT equality across all council functions, representatives from the core group also sit on other Manchester City Council working groups. Core group members are supported by two co-chairs and a secretary, and they take individual responsibility for the following areas: training, development, events, socials, budget, administration, lesbian issues, gay men’s issues and trans issues.

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Membership

Membership of the network could be:

  • Exclusive – open only to LGB colleagues
  • Inclusive – open to all staff with an interest in LGB issues.

There are pros and cons with both approaches. For example, in an exclusive LGB network employees who are not out at work may be more inclined to attend meetings. Such a network would also encourage open discussion of personal experiences. However, colleagues and managers may consider the group to be insular or divisive.

Meanwhile, an inclusive network can broaden people’s understanding of LGB discrimination, which is vital for change to happen. It would also enable heterosexual colleagues with LGB family or friends to access information and support. However, it could discourage colleagues who are not out from participating in the group.

A workable compromise would be to keep some activities, such as socials and mentoring, exclusively LGB while others, such as information-sharing events, remain open to all staff. This would ensure that key stakeholders, including HR managers and executive sponsors, are able to continue championing the network across the organisation.

Stonewall’s research has shown that lesbians and bisexual women tend to be under-represented among LGB network members.

There are a number of ways to encourage women to participate, such as:

  • Appointing two co-chairs, one male and one female
  • Ensuring women are always represented on steering groups and committees, therefore encouraging women colleagues to become role models and advocates
  • Holding social events at gay women’s venues rather than relying on male venues
  • Inviting women to attend meetings early and network beforehand
  • Making links with the organisation’s women’s network, to share information and good practice.

KPMG’s Breathe group realised that very few lesbians and bisexual women were attending events. In response it appointed a women’s officer to the group’s executive board. Her role is to identify the specific issues that lesbians and bisexual women at KPMG face, and to identify the issues they share with colleagues.

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Resources

LGB networks need two major resources: personnel and time. Much of the planning and development is carried out by individuals in addition to their normal workload. Best practice employers acknowledge this by recognising during performance review the work active members put in to the network and its positive impact on their development.

Some organisations allow LGB network members with coordinating responsibilities time off to dedicate to the group. The most successful networks tend to operate in organisations where managers are encouraged to let employees attend meetings during office hours.

Organisations that are serious about their LGB networks should also provide funds to meet the costs of events such as speaker expenses, travel and communications. Some organisations have diversity budgets to meet these costs, others offer funding on a more ad hoc basis. Both the HR and finance departments should be able to help identify how network  co-ordinators can apply for funding. It is worth finding out how other staff groups in the business have met their costs.
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Confidentiality

Enabling colleagues who are not out to participate in the LGB network is a challenge. No one, regardless of his or her sexual orientation, has the right to disclose other people’s sexual orientation. Their reasons for not being out may be personal or symptomatic of an organisational culture. There are a number of ways of helping not-out colleagues to participate in the network or access information, if they wish, while retaining their anonymity.

They could include:

  • Setting out a well-publicised confidentiality policy
  • Holding meetings at external venues and out of office hours
  • Using closed/anonymous e-mail lists
  • Omitting names of not-out colleagues from minutes of meetings
  • Setting up an internet group e-mail account, outside the office system
  • Operating a confidential voicemail for people without access to e-mail
  • Using external websites to host resources and information that people can access from home.

LGBT staff wishing to participate in Barnardo’s National LGBT Forum are supported by their managers and are given time off to attend meetings. Their expenses (such as travel and accommodation if required) are covered by their individual departments. To include colleagues who are not out at work, the forum holds some meetings out of office hours and has a budget to cover the expenses of individuals who do not want to ask their managers to authorise the payment.

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