Employee network groups are a great tool to help create an inclusive work environment. They are voluntary groups of colleagues with similar beliefs, backgrounds or interests. They provide support, advice, or just a sounding board in a safe, confidential environment. Employee networks can help give employees a strong sense of belonging and also offer an opportunity for people to connect with other like-minded employees.
Aside from giving a sense of belonging, employee network groups also give under-represented groups a chance to speak up and make changes. By having affinity groups employers are able to have a key understanding of where they could make changes to become more inclusive. It’s a great forum to get feedback from employees in a safe environment where they feel they have like-minded people present.
Employee networks also help to boost the reputation of a company externally. More people are interested in how inclusive and diverse an employer is when they’re looking for a new job, so the presence of strong and successful network groups shows commitment to inclusivity.
As well as feedback and reputation, employee network groups are an avenue to celebrating diversity in your company. Events like International Women’s Day, Pride Month & Black History Month can have solid plans behind them made by the people they celebrate. From this, education on key groups can be passed on to the rest of the company.
An employee network can be formed for any group, the possibilities really depend on the needs, interests and wants of your employees. However, the five most common employee groups are:
Women’s networks are a great place to connect women from different departments, levels and backgrounds. They provide a safe space for members to discuss things like flexible working, childcare, work-life balance and many more issues and suggest changes where needed. It’s also worth noting that a women’s network doesn’t necessarily mean that all members should be women. It’s also important to have male allies who are passionate about women’s rights and this should be encouraged.
Engaging with employees who are from a minority background can be a great way for your organisation to identify where challenges and disparities may exist and how they can be addressed. This doesn’t need to be a single network either. Depending on the size and diversity of your company, multiple networks for different ethnicities and faiths can be a great way to connect employees from similar backgrounds.
It’s increasingly important for organisations to understand how crucial it is for them to be inclusive and create a safe environment for all employees regardless of their sexuality or gender identity. By creating an LGBTQ+ network, an employer can create a much safer and inclusive culture. It can be difficult for some people to feel that they can be their whole selves at work, due to fear of discrimination, bullying and being excluded. A strong and supportive group can help counter this fear.
Mental health has previously been a taboo subject, especially in the workplace. Thankfully, this is becoming less common with more people being up-front and open about their mental health conditions. By setting up a mental health network, employers can show their commitment to being open and supportive about people’s struggles. With around 70 million work days being lost each year due to mental health, creating an environment where employees feel supported can have huge benefits to a company.
The disability employment gap has increased by 0.7% over the last year alone, leading to a huge skills gap. A disabled employee network group creates a safe space for employees with disabilities to talk about how it affects their day-to-day working life, and gives opportunity for adjustments to be made to make the company a more inclusive and accessible environment.
If you’re an employee wanting to start a network, your first point of call should be to talk to your HR department and tell them why you think it’ll help. Put together a brief business case, detailing what value the group will bring to both your employer and the workforce. It’s also key to talk to your colleagues and get people on board and excited about it.
As a company, if you have a potential employee network group in the works, ensure you’re looking at the full picture. What are the objectives of the network group? How will the group meet and how often? Do you have any budget/funding to put behind the group for things like printed materials, resources and events? These are all questions to answer early on so that there is a clear structure to the group from the beginning.
If you have a large organisation, it’s also key to consider the branding of your group. A good name and logo will make promoting the group much easier. Consider a launch event to try and attract as much attention as possible. If you have an internal communications platform such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, ensure a channel is set up where you can post regular updates and events to keep people informed.
When up and running, a successful employee network can have lots of benefits to both the organisation and its employees. And, although setting up a network can take a lot of time and resource, it goes a long way to creating an inclusive and diverse environment.