Many companies explore the use of employee resources or network groups as part of their business equity, workforce diversity and workplace inclusion initiatives.
They’re sometimes also called affinity groups or business resource groups, often depending on the maturity of the programme.
This four-part mini-series covers topics for companies to consider:
- Complications and challenges.
The first article in this insights mini-series covered what networking groups/employee resources normally consist of.
This time we’ll consider why are they so important, what’s in it for employees and what’s in it for the company to support the formation of them.
There are many reasons for the establishment of these groups, for both the individuals as well as for the company.
For the individuals/employees:
- It’s a forum for like-minded people to gather to discuss topics of relevance and what changes they believe need to be made to create a more diverse workforce and inclusive workplace.
- It allows allies to participate – those who do not necessarily personally identify with the group but who want to support progress – for example, men participating in the gender/women’s network. (Network groups without allies participating are missing out massively on the potential to make change happen.)
- Those who identify with the group but for whatever reason do not wish to disclose may also choose to participate as allies. So for example someone with a mental health condition may participate, as an ally, as they may not initially feel comfortable sharing their condition. Perhaps through time, they will develop the comfort and confidence to be able to do so.
- It’s often valuable for people to receive peer support (that often builds their confidence to be more open about their difference in the workplace) and to contribute to positive change within the company.
- Individuals often get to develop valuable experience through the network that can help their career, e.g. chairing meetings, delivering presentations, events management, and stakeholder engagement. Developing workplace and life skills that they may not otherwise be able to in their day jobs.
- Most of us are impacted by one if not several of the D&I topics, so even if one doesn’t identify with a group personally they may be relevant. For example
- The parent of a lesbian daughter may join a company’s LGBT+ network to learn more whilst supporting the network.
- An employee who has a partner with a mental health condition may join the mental health network at work for support, or to seek change in company policies if they do not provide support in the ways they need.
- It’s also the case that some characteristics are permanent for us and some may be temporary or transitional; for example, a person may have a chronic illness for a number of years from which they later recover.
For the company:
- Networking groups give the represented employees a voice. If there’s an issue then it’s a channel to engage the company on. If the company acts upon feedback it will help foster a sense of engagement and enablement between the company and the members.
- The networking group provides a consultation route – for example, “how can we encourage more BAME people to apply to work for us” or “could we have the company’s parental leave policy reviewed to ensure that it is fully inclusive for LGBT+ people”.
- For a very modest budget, the company has a group of potential change agents for further improving the company.
- The group may identify areas of improvement that are not apparent to those who are not part of the represented group, and not unreasonably so: for example not many heterosexual or straight people will know or understand why many LGBT+ people choose to “live in the closet”, or hide a fundamental part of one’s own identity every single day.
- Most improvements are available for all, for example where a Women’s Business Network may promote more flexible working practices they may, in turn, benefit everyone, not just women.
- Along that same line, when a company embarks on formal and visible support for any of the D&I characteristics (and is demonstrably doing so for the right reasons) there’s a ripple effect. Employees in not yet represented minority groups may benefit from a more tolerant and inclusive culture and feel that they are more respected and able to contribute more openly. They recognise the company is prepared to support those who challenge the status quo for the better.
- The group can help raise awareness around an issue, for example, the company’s disability group could run a cross-company dyslexia awareness week.
This article covered why networking groups normally consist of, the next in the mini-series considered how to enable them.