Diversity networks: five opportunities for HR

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Never has there been more interest in diversity groups in the workplace. Everyone is holding organisations accountable to how they hire, progress and treat the diverse workforce the recent deadline of publishing gender pay gaps sparked huge attention and now all gloves are off when it comes to organisations rectifying issues that shouldn’t exist in the 21st century.

As a result of this, organisations are focusing more efforts on their diversity strategy; that is a structured and strategic approach to how they promote and protect a diverse and inclusive place of work. One way companies are doing this is the creation and/or promotion of their diversity networks.

As HR professionals, we’re already aware of how diversity networks are structured. They’re opportunities for diverse employees to get together and discuss matters that they feel need addressing, reflecting or considering, be they forums for women, employees with a disability or religion, BAME or LGBT employees, or even working parents and carers.

These are usually set up as a result of an appetite test, a gathering of employees’ views on who may be underrepresented, and assessing the appropriateness of bridging this gap with a respective network.

But we also must understand, and articulate, the deeper benefits and opportunities these networks can bring to the members, wider staff, the company and its customers, giving us new viewpoints on maintaining their momentum, membership and successes.

Below are five of a vast amount of opportunities networks offer:

Targeted representation

Having diversity networks means you have specific cohorts of staff that share and represent specific needs and standpoints. Only those with these protected characteristics can truly understand the issues they meet in the workplace, and indeed their customers, and having a dedicated space for the members to discuss these topics means that efforts are focussed and well-informed from an insider’s perspective.

Although sensitive topics in the workplace in general shouldn’t be avoided if there’s a concern that needs addressing, there’s a sense of safety in the networks, that opinions and voices can be heard that may be sensitive or hard to hear (yet need to be heard) without hesitation or awkwardness.

This enables the network to put together actions to address these concerns in the most effective way that’ hits the core of the issue.

Targeted consultation 

In addition to the above point, using the networks as a forum of consultation means you have a specific and helpful viewpoint on a number of items in the workplace.

From HR policies, to training material, internal communications to external advertising, consulting with the members from these forums ensures that impact from an equalities perspective is assessed, and any concerns are addressed before any offence or discrimination is felt.

Working in this way strengthens the relationship between the business and the networks, assuring the forums that their unique perspective and opinions really add value to business decisions and the success of the organisation.

Networking

Networks, as the name suggests, are tremendous networking opportunities for both the members and HR.

Members have an opportunity to work with colleagues from different departments and positions that they otherwise might not have had.

This symbiotic way of working enables a member to understand a bit about views from different departments (crucial for breaking down silos) that can feed back into their day job, as well as giving them the chance to work directly alongside them on a specific network action.

This newly gained perspective will, in most cases, create a more productive and harmonious way of working for all involved, having a better understanding of the bigger picture and how they fit into it.

L&D opportunities 

Following on from the previous point, networks are an opportunity for members to work alongside other colleagues on pieces of work they might not have been exposed to in their day job.

For example, if a member who usually works in procurement has an opportunity to work on internal and external advertising on a particular network campaign, they’re opening themselves up to a brand new set of skills that they can take back to their day role, take to their aspiring role, or even just an outlet for their creativity that they might not be able to express elsewhere.

Other projects offered could include project management, researching methods, drafting proposals and public speaking. 

Set up correctly, networks also have their own administrative structure - some will have a chair person, minutes, agendas, treasurers, secretaries, or ambassadors - ensuring proprietary, advocacy and structure.

These additional roles alone are fantastic development opportunities, and can even be changed regularly on a rotational basis so that everyone has a go. 

Inclusion of non-diverse members

There may be a preconception that diversity group membership is only open to those who share the respective protected characteristic, and while this has some advantages, opening membership up to those who don’t share this characteristic will far better promote a culture of inclusion.

This includes the inclusion of members from other networks too, endorsing a better sense of working together and sharing good practices. As mentioned, it is in these forums that important and sensitive issues are discussed.

Sometimes these discussions come from a place of upset, passion or frustration, and for colleagues who don’t share the same characteristic to witness this not only educates them on topics they might not be aware of or realise the impact, but it also informs them on their work and how their decisions in their day job might affect other groups of staff.

They begin to understand from a first-hand perspective from where the reasoning has derived.

Bringing this back to your diversity strategy, it’s important that you communicate these opportunities in the right way and through the right methods.

Externally, the majority of the communications will be included in your recruitment campaigns; the job advertisement and interview are opportunities to inform candidates what you do for diverse employees and their fundamental part they have in making a business successful.

Sharing this information on the organisation’s website and social media accounts also holds you accountable for promoting these networks on an ongoing basis, while providing a platform to announce key network successes.

Internally, you have an array of creative communications you can take advantage of.

Essential to the success of these internal communications though is telling the story of the networks; rather than explain what they are and what they do, use the opportunities they offer – as listed above – to demonstrate how crucial they are to the business to encourage more employees to become members and take part in the great work they do.

With this in mind, when deciding how to communicate these, the focal point must be the work involved and successes rather than focussing too much on the social aspect.

Although these are tremendous ways to socialise at work, it shouldn’t be the main reason why someone wants to become a member.

Communications need to be consistent and regular. Having the members themselves decide how and when to issue these increases active participation and momentum, while also being conscious of the particular group of people to which they are targeting their messages. 

I’m keen to see more networks like this in the future workplace that offer the same opportunities to various groups – for example, think of how much insight recent graduates and apprentices could offer a business and their recruitment campaigns if they were given a forum to share ideas and help make decisions? What about older workers? Single working parents? The list goes on.

Which networks would you like to see in the workplace?

About Charles Goff-Deakins Assoc CIPD

Charles Goff-Deakins portrait

Charles Goff-Deakins is an associate member of CIPD and works as a senior HR officer specialising in HR policy, strategy and employee engagement. As well as writing for HR Zone, Charles also writes about career development for HR/L&D professionals on his blog The Avid Doer

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