Employee networks are voluntary groups of employees who come together based on a shared identity or life experience. Well-organized and empowered networks greatly benefit organizations that genuinely seek to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace.
What are employee networks used for?
Typically, staff networks focus on traditionally disadvantaged or marginalized sectors of society, such as the LGBTQ+ community, ethnic minorities, women, and people with disabilities and/or mental health issues. Indeed, society reminds us that prejudice has existed and still exists, with sometimes devastating consequences.
The mandate of these networks may vary from one organization to another. Primarily, they offer employees a safe space in which to meet and discuss their experiences, network with their peers, and create a work community based on their common identity.
They can also provide a source of support for staff members who may be facing challenges at work, providing easy access to colleagues who can empathize, share their own experiences and offer practical advice.
However, staff networks can offer so much more than that and, if used effectively, can play a key role in an organization’s diversity and inclusion program.
For example, employee networks can provide a platform to promote an employer’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, showing the value the employer places on the all of its staff. Network members often pledge to help educate the entire workforce by writing blogs, hosting events, providing training, or sharing information.
A network of employees can also have a collective voice, raising awareness of areas of improvement needed within an organization to ensure equal opportunities for everyone. This can include bringing issues to the attention of management or campaigning for changes to policies and procedures to make them more inclusive. With networks of internal employees working in collaboration and for the same common objectives, the better the result and/or the progress sought. An example here would be networks of staff working together to raise awareness of intersectionality issues.
A challenge for many employers looking to make diversity and inclusion improvements is the lack of available diversity data for their organization, which could help identify where resources are needed or what their priorities should be. . However, there can be uncertainty about what data employers can request, and many employers are reluctant to contact employees for such information, on the grounds that it may seem intrusive or divisive. This is where a personal network can be invaluable. Not only can the network advise on what data to collect and how best to do so, but it can also disseminate information to its members about the approach taken by the organization, why and how the data will be used to reassure and encourage employees to provide necessary information to an employer. In turn, the network can report back to members on any progress made using the data received.
Some employee networks also discuss broader issues faced by similar groups in the wider community and work with charities related to the particular focus of the network, which can build on and enhance a CSR program. of an organization.
Why are these networks important?
On average, we spend almost a quarter of our lives working. Making employees feel included at work can directly improve workplace performance and happiness, which builds loyalty and trust and helps an employer attract and retain talent.
Employee networks provide support, enhance career development and contribute to personal development in the work environment. They create supportive environments and help bring people together. They provide the ability to champion individuals and call for change, as well as empower employees and help create an environment where everyone can be themselves.
Additionally, staff networks are key to ensuring effective equality and a culture of inclusion in the workplace, helping to eradicate workplace discrimination or harassment through education and information sharing.
By supporting a diverse workplace, the organization will also benefit in terms of productivity. Research has shown that diverse teams can solve problems faster and have an increased ability to innovate and make decisions compared to non-diverse teams. Levels of engagement are also higher and opportunities for external networking, whether with clients, customers or intermediaries are greater.
How do you ensure that your networks are effective?
For an employee network to be an effective tool for an organization, it must be a true vehicle for the voice of employees, both on an individual and collective basis, and be authentic as a whole (the employee networks employees should never be part of a tick box exercise). This means that the network must be actively engaged with the rest of the business. For this to work, there must also be buy-in from senior managers within the organization, who are committed to attending meetings and taking an interest in the work of the network.
An effective network will also have clear goals and objectives, explaining why it exists and how it will work, and make them available to all staff.