Yeme Onoabhagbe is the co-chair of the Stonewall BAME/POC staff network group. She’s currently working on our Network Group Masterclass, which will equip you with the practical skills and leadership development you need to run an effective LGBT network. Below she shares what she’s learnt and her top tips for running an employee network group.
'When I became the co-chair of Stonewall’s BAME/POC Staff network, I immediately had imposter syndrome. How could I be a confident leader and representative for BAME/POC staff? What could I do to ensure our network had a meaningful impact on our organisation and the wider community?
But put simply, my time in this role has taught me that being an effective network group leader means thinking beyond yourself and ‘what I can do’. It’s actually about how I can collaborate with, support and platform others.
1. You can’t do everything
My day job is demanding and the additional commitment of a chair position was daunting. It’s easy to burn out with the pressure of a role that you’re personally invested in given the emotional labour it involves. It’s important to recognise that you can’t do it all. As a chair, you’re there to lead network activities, which means knowing when to delegate.
Think about the expertise your members bring and the experience they’re looking for and create roles that help people use their talents and advance their careers. Wherever you are at in your network’s journey, creating a leadership structure and assigning roles like a treasurer or events lead will make the network more efficient and your job more manageable.
2. Be an inclusive leader
As a black woman, mine is not the only identity or experience within the BAME/POC community. As a leader I have a responsibility to ensure that our activities and feedback to the organisation consider the experiences of all parts of the community.
Similarly, it’s crucial that right from the beginning of developing your LGBT network you’re taking steps to ensure that lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are equally included and supported. Beyond this, it’s also vital to actively recognise that an individual’s identity consists of multiple intersecting facets such as gender, disability and faith. This approach comes from your leadership style and the way you include and celebrate other identities, but also from working formally and effectively with other employee network groups.
3. Invest in your members
One of your key focuses should be supporting your members to feel empowered in their positions within your organisation. As co-chair, I have been given countless opportunities to get involved in work across the organisation, but it doesn’t always need to be me.
I’ve made an effort to learn the specific abilities, interests and development goals of our network members in order to tailor the opportunities we’re offered to their needs. By finding and communicating bespoke opportunities for your network members you’re allowing them to get the most out of membership by supporting their confidence and career progression.
4. Find ways to engage all network members
Running socials is a great way to engage your network members but it’s crucial that these social activities are accessible to all members. Not everyone socialises or engages in the same way and so it’s paramount that you’re considering this when organising activities.
We promote drinks after work, but we also promote film nights, exhibitions and run workshops on POC LGBT specific issues. This means that all members can benefit in a way that suits them and our socials help our members engage with the wider community and learn new things.
5. Hold your organisation accountable
As a chair, you have significant influence within your organisation because your senior management team need your expertise to ensure that their policies, practises, culture and processes are inclusive. Working closely with the senior management team at Stonewall, I help support them on their diversity and inclusion work and ensure that they’re always considering the experiences and impact for BAME/POC staff and people in our wider communities.
Remember that your input is truly valued, so don’t be afraid to be bold in your recommendations. Consider who you can influence most effectively to make a change and how you can get them onboard. Above all, make sure you have a member of the senior management team as your sponsor. They’ll be able to support you to influence others and you can hold them accountable to ensure your work leads to action.'
Our Network Group Masterclass in Birmingham on June 28 provides leadership development tailored to anyone who holds a leadership position in an LGBT network group. You’ll also get a choice of four interactive workshops that cover some of the key practicalities I’ve outlined above.
Remember, this is a challenging yet immensely rewarding role and attending this event is a great way for your organisation to support you to develop your skills and grow your network.
Check out the full programme and book your tickets today.