Originally published 22/08/2018
The concept of staff networks has been around for a long time. Originally developed to support minorities in individual workplaces, some have expanded to become a forum to improve policies, host regular socials and network within their industry.
Staff networks are run by the groups that they support, and can usually be found in a more corporate environment. They can often be used as a tool to attract more diverse talent and to improve the workplace for existing employees.
But are staff networks a good idea? They are certainly not accessible to all, in the main you need to be an employee of a company in order to join the network, and when you leave the company, you leave the network.
Many employees are not in a position to start up a network – to run smoothly they must be approved by corporate, and many companies are not large enough to warrant a network, such as a small business with under 10 staff, or a corner shop. Some LGBT staff networks can be very biased towards a particular group, such as gay men, which can put off women from joining. These groups of people are the ones I have tried to reach out to via The WOW Network, as they are not getting the support they need within the workplace.
Depending on how well the network does will affect how many minority people and allies it will attract, and most networks grow through time, having set up with certain aims and objectives, as well as providing a safe and social space for staff to come together.
Ultimately I believe that staff networks can be very useful, especially in industries with a real lack of diversity, and no real understanding of unconscious bias. They can challenge these issues and help to update old policies, support struggling staff and provide a voice for minorities at corporate level. In more diverse companies, networks can provide fundraising for charities, futureproofing of policies and social support.
My vote for staff networks has to be a Yay, but with the proviso that they are well run, inclusive, and needed – if a network is trying to attract more women to the company, for example, then there needs to be statistics or facts to show that this is an issue. Otherwise, they are not relevant – and will quickly lose traction.