Workplace Guides: Network Groups

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Maintaining and developing the Network

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Once an organisation’s LGB network has been established, it is important to maintain and develop it. It needs to continue to be a valuable organisational resource as well as retaining members’ interest.

Keeping it relevant

Consult members periodically to find out what they want from the group and use feedback forms to gather views on specific events and future activities. Several of the network groups that Stonewall interviewed review their aims and objectives annually.

Give managers the chance to feed into the group’s development by consulting senior supporters and other key stakeholders. Find out, as well, what LGB staff who do not participate think about the group. They also benefit from any positive cultural changes that the network inspires in the workplace, so their views are important. Sending an organisation-wide e-mail or memo, assuring staff that responses will remain confidential, is one way of contacting non-members.

Organisations that monitor sexual orientation of staff will know the proportion of the workforce that is LGB, and will know if they have an unusually low network participation rate. If a significant group of LGB staff are not participating in the network, try to find out what is stopping them. It could be something about the way the group is structured, such as an all-male steering group or a lack of ethnic minority LGB role models.

Finally, be sure to publicise any changes that result from consultation with members, non-members and managers. This will reassure respondents that their views count and make it more likely that they will participate in future.

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Cross-strand networking

People are likely to belong to more than one diversity group, or strand. An Asian lesbian, or a bisexual man with a disability are not just LGB. It makes sense to engage in cross-strand networking with other groups to share information and good practice.

Many organisations have well-established women’s networks and ethnic minority staff groups. They may also have disability networks, faith networks and parenting groups. These are a valuable resource for new LGB networks that can learn from their experiences.

Make contact with external groups too, across the sector and beyond. This will facilitate further sharing of good practice and increase professional networking opportunities for group members.

Cross-strand and cross-sector networking activities might include:

  • Speaker events
  • Joint social events
  • Participation in equality and diversity events,both internal and external.

The Rainbow Professional Network at Merrill Lynch was established with support from the American Rainbow Professional Network. The US network was able to offer the benefit of its experience, infrastructure and broad global objectives, as well as guidance on brand and logo identity. The co-chairs of the UK group liaised with other employee network groups within Merrill Lynch to develop their learning. They also collaborated with external networks for gay professionals from within the same industry.

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Developing leadership skills

LGB networks are a good way of helping LGB employees to develop their skills and confidence through mentoring, identifying role models and simple networking. Staff who take on a co-ordinating role will also develop their leadership skills.

However, specific training provided by the employer could further enhance the group’s capacity. This could include training in project and events management, presentation skills, consultation and policy development. Best practice employers recognise, at performance review, the impact that taking part in the network is having on members’ competencies.

At Ford, the annual Chairman’s Leadership Awards for Diversity officially recognise employees whose actions have made a positive difference and furthered the company’s aim to be a leader in diversity issues. Award categories include Most Inspirational Employee Resource Group. This recognises “any form of education and awareness-raising within the company, together with added value through maximising business links with potential customers, suppliers and local communities”.

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office has recognised the importance of FLAGG (Foreign & Commonwealth Office Lesbian & Gay Group) by adding the role of co-ordinator to a post-holder’s job description. This means that network achievements are recognised at coordinators’ appraisals.

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