Updated: May 6, 2020
What are the benefits of staff diversity networks and how they are useful in developing an inclusive workplace culture?
This blog post will look at the benefits of diversity networks and analyse 5 key opportunities created by their development.
There are several organisational benefits of staff diversity networks.
Organisations are being held to account for the ways in which they recruit and progress diverse people within the workplace.
The unfairness with which some diverse staff members are treated in the workplace, and the recent publishing of gender pay gaps, have drawn attention to diversity and inclusion.
Society is increasingly reminded that issues of unfairness, discrimination and bias are still prevalent, and must be dealt with.
Supporting the Diversity and Inclusion Agenda
It is time that the management and monitoring of workplace diversity is given top priority. Strategies must be put in place to increase inclusion and eliminate cultural, racial and gender bias.
Organisations are being tasked to focus more efforts on strategic tools, that can embed diversity and inclusion across the full spectrum of their operations.
They are being tasked to look at how they recruit, promote and manage people across the business.
They are being tasked to analyse the ways in which this reflects on the promotion of a diverse and inclusive workplace, where all members of staff have fair opportunity to develop and succeed.
One of the ways that organisations are seeking to implement and promote this, is through the establishment of staff diversity networks.
Staff diversity networks are useful to engage staff and management, around the particular issues that face a body of diverse employees.
They create the opportunity for employees to discuss the matters surrounding diversity and inclusion within the workplace, that they believe require attention from management.
These can be matters relating to recruitment, management styles, promotion, learning and development or anything that the network thinks needs addressing.
Networks help to filter areas that require some consideration, reflection or strategic development within the workplace and across business operations.
Staff diversity networks can take any shape. Some organisations develop forums for BAME or LGBTI employees; Others are created to discuss and manage issues relating to women, working parents, staff with carer responsibilities, religion and belief, people with disabilities and homeworking.
Progressive organisations realise the utility in setting up staff diversity networks to inform their recruitment, management and learning strategies.
Networks can be set up as a result of surveys or as a means of gathering the views of employees from diverse backgrounds.
They can be useful to understand the viewpoints of staff groups that are underrepresented, to develop processes for inclusion.
Staff diversity networks can bridge the gap between management and respective networks, where there has not yet been full engagement.
Diversity networks are helpful in developing staff engagement, helping to contribute to the development of whole organisation diversity and inclusion development.
There are many opportunities and benefits that staff diversity networks can bring to an organisation. They can be a catalyst for the process of learning and development, that can innovate the company.
They can create opportunities for the overall workforce, customers, clients and help drive understanding. This is useful for any organisation wishing to embed an inclusive workplace environment across its operations.
Diversity networks create strategic opportunities for both management and staff within organisations. These include:
1. Increasing staff input through targeted representation.
By developing diversity networks, an organisation can build understanding of the needs of specific groups with shared differences, and create opportunities for inclusion.
As mentioned before, networks can be build around specific interest e.g race, culture, sexuality, religion and belief, people with disabilities, carers, homeworking... the list is not exhaustive.
Those with particular experience of group concern, can share and represent, with a true understanding of the specific needs and concerns of the group.
This provides the perfect opportunity for management to learn about, and create strategies and structures for driving diversity and inclusive practice.
Staff diversity networks can help an organisation develop understanding through targeted representation.
For staff members, diversity networks represent a safe environment where they can discuss sometimes sensitive issues.
This is a useful opportunity for staff to voice concerns regarding discrimination or harassment. These concerns can then be taken back to management and discussed within a formal setting.
Being able to voice concerns within groups, often anonymously, is a helpful benefit for an organisation seeking to develop inclusion.
It provides management with an opportunity to learn about the culture within the organisation, without staff needing to feel hesitant about approaching management formally.
Networks can draw up useful actions to address staff concerns, in a way that is useful to management when looking to develop policies and practices.
These policies, practices and strategic developments, will ultimately become embedded into workplace culture.
2. Increasing knowledge through targeted consultation.
Another key opportunity derived from the formation of staff diversity networks, is the ability for organisations to use them as a vehicle for consultation.
This ensures that there is a ready made forum, from which to gather the targeted and pertinent viewpoints of a diverse cohort of staff.
Managers can learn about specific needs and concerns through targeted consultation with diversity networks.
This is useful for the development of the organisation, having impact on issues such as policies, training, communications, recruitment, promotion and marketing.
Members of internal interest groups are well placed to ensure that the impact from an equalities perspective is assessed and incorporated into strategic planning within the business.
This is critical in order to avoid loss of confidence in the business, as well as addressing any concerns that may arise post implementation.
This style of cooperation, between management and diversity networks, develops a critical level of understanding. It helps to ensure that diverse groups can feel that their concerns are listened to, and appreciated, when management makes decisions.
It enables forums and groups to contribute, with unique perspectives and opinions, that add value to the business and ultimately, the success of it.
3. Creating opportunities for further networking.
Networks are a powerful resource to build understanding about what matters most. This is true for both network members and management, as the basis upon which staff diversity networks are created, is to deliver shared understanding.
This is indeed a valuable organisational resource, and one that progressive organisations will have in their managers toolkit.
Diverse staff members, through diversity networks, have the opportunity to work with management to inform key decisions, policies and practices. Their input will be considered by management and potentially help to shape organisational policy.
Management, through liaison with networks, have the opportunity to learn from and develop systems and working practices, which are more inclusive and based on the needs of a diverse workforce.
This symbiotic relationship, is enabling due to the fact that it assists both parties to understand each others viewpoints. It provides opportunities to feed into working practices and workplace culture.
It develops knowledge and understanding and helping to break down silos between departments and hierarchies within the business. It affords both parties the opportunity to work together on specific business actions.
Staff diversity groups create opportunities for expanded networking with external groups.
Networking allows for both the business and staff diversity groups to gain a new perspective and understanding of the way forward.
It will create opportunities for shared ownership of projects, increased learning and development and external networking to increase opportunities for further engagement.
4. Enhancing learning and development.
Perhaps one of the most beneficial opportunities created by diversity networks, is the opportunity for members to work alongside colleagues, on projects that they would otherwise have little or no involvement with.
This presents opportunities for members of the network to assist colleagues on ways to develop inclusion across projects and other pieces of work.
It also creates opportunities for members to develop skills which will be useful in their current working role.
As well as informing policy and practice across the business, staff diversity networks can work with management on issues around implementation.
Diversity networks provide a linkage between policy and practice and support leadership to take account of diversity through the transfer of valuable experiential knowledge.
By taking into account the concerns and issues faced by diverse staff groups, management can more effectively work to bring about inclusive practices to engage with internal staff and external customers.
5. Developing understanding across all staff teams.
Rather than building a staff diversity network around membership to those who primarily share respective protected characteristics, opening dialogue with staff members, who do not share a characteristic, is an avenue for promoting inclusion.
Whilst it may be necessary to hold closed meetings (and there are advantages of this ) there is also an opportunity to include staff members and management who may not share the protected characteristic.
This helps to initiate dialogue and advance learning, so as to develop understanding of particular issues.
By allowing events to be all inclusive, useful opportunities are presented to engage and increase understanding of different customs, needs and inclusive initiatives.
Promoting an inclusive culture should be the primary function of any staff diversity network. As such, holding informative discussion sessions, seminars, conferences etc, where all are able to attend, will be a major plus for the successful diversity network.
By including members of other groups, and sharing good practice, the network will ultimately become more effective.
It is important to remember that most people have a range of diversity that they may wish to speak about. For example, a person may be white and gay with a disability and may wish to contribute to more than one forum.
By holding sessions where everyone is included, colleagues who don't share a particular characteristic can become more knowledgeable about difference.
They can learn about the experiences of diverse groups and the effects of discrimination and unfair treatment in the workplace.
By opening up sessions to all, the diversity network can empower people and educate them on the impact of day to day decisions, that may affect diverse groups, that they work with or manage.
It will generate an increased understanding, derived from a first hand perspective, that has the potential to not only inform practice, but increase learning on diversity.
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Kenroi Consulting is a bespoke diversity consultancy providing tailor made solutions and training services to businesses across the UK.
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