These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest Diversity Think Tank (DTT) held on Thursday 26th February 2015, hosted by TSB’s Maria Fletcher, (Diversity and Inclusion Manager) titled ‘Utilising Employee Networks to help Support the D&I Agenda’.
The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior HR and Diversity professionals from leading national and international businesses. Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.
Diversity networks provide a great opportunity to help unite diverse employee populations and support the wider D&I agenda. When managed effectively they offer a valuable forum for sharing ideas, networking and providing peer support but how should a company set up and support employee networks? Should they be an employee or employer led initiative or both and what is the best way to secure business / senior management buy in and support? This summary aims to discuss the business divers, best practice and challenges for utilising employee networks to support the D&I agenda as well as discovering the best ways to measure their success and impact on the business.
- Attraction of new diverse candidates / employer brand – do they see the company as being diverse and inclusive and somewhere they could fit in? Attracting a diverse range of employees is crucial for bringing in new ideas and ways of thinking
- Retention – helping employees feel part of something. One of the biggest reasons employees stay with a company is the people
- Culture – creating an inclusive culture means employees feel more comfortable in their environment and willing to share ideas and thoughts which could ultimately improve the business
- Employee career development – having mentors that are relatable can help with quicker progression within a company
- Clients / customer brand – some clients now ask a company for it’s D&I statistics or policy to ensure that they will fully understand their needs. Clients like to be able to relate to the company and its employees. Now, more than ever they care more about the values of the company they chose and are seeing the value of diversity of thought
- Conveying messages – internal communication delivered through the networks is often far more effective as employees are more likely to listen to someone they can relate to
- Shaping strategy – effective employee networks should be able to represent the people of the company to shape the future strategy to do what is best for employees and business. Listening to employees’ voices is crucial for being innovative and for long term success. Employee networks provide the perfect channel for this. Employees, especially the younger generation, are no longer scared to ask the questions and give feedback to the business on how it could be made better. The business needs to tap into this in the right way and utilise it
- Competitiveness – do key competitors have a well communicated and attractive D&I strategy?
How many networks / who to represent?
There is no right or wrong answer for this. If employees see the need for a network then they should be encouraged and given support for this to create a truly inclusive environment. Many companies start with a network for women which is often formed due to imbalances in gender in senior level management. Other networks are usually formed after this as appetite for employee networks grow when employees see the success they can have. There may not be an appetite for enough networks to represent every single employee. This is where inclusiveness is so important, as long as someone wants to join a network either because they can relate to it or feel they could contribute and benefit from it then they should be allowed, even if the network does not directly relate to them.
New starter networks can be another good place to start when forming employee networks. New starters often have lots of fresh new ideas and are more likely to be a varied mix of people. Forming this network is also a good way for the business to be able to recognise new starters who are keen and forward thinking and have an appetite to be part of the company and get stuck in.
Should networks be employee or employer led? A combination of both is most successful as there needs to be a demand from employees who are keen to contribute and will attend events. At the same time employers need to give budget and time to employees to participate in networks whilst tracking the feedback and outcomes of meetings so that they are valuable to all parties involved.
Executive buy in
Having senior buy in, such as the CEO who could mention networks when speaking and meeting with staff, can really help with the strength and awareness of the network. For some companies this buy in is automatic and takes little convincing but for others clearly communicating the business drivers including the monetary value add from networks will help get senior level buy in. Senior managers need to be seen as role models and be willing to be open, transparent and “be themselves” to encourage others in the business to be so. This will make other employees more willing to do so. Leading by example is key!
Executive sponsorship for key audiences is good way to get momentum for networks. Sometimes executives will offer to be part of this but if not approaching them with a clear strategy of what the company is doing with networks whilst clearly communicating the successful impact they are having and the role they can play within the network should increase interest.
Utilising the networks
Some networks are focused on just making sure employees are looked after but some face internally to the business to be a real value add. The latter makes it easier to get senior management buy in. Networks should not be seen as places to moan. They are there to help employees support one another and feel comfortable in their workplace whilst finding solutions to any issues. A process needs to be in place for how these solutions get communicated back to the business and dealt with or implemented. Often setting networks a small number of strategic objectives helps them to shape the business. Setting other objectives such as networking can help the business in other areas such as talent pipelining.
Experts such as Race for Opportunity and the Business Disability Forum can also be brought in to give the networks structure and a plan for contribution.
Videos are good ways to get employees / potential employees to understand the opportunities for different types of people within an organisation. These don’t have to be labelled as diversity but can show the day in the lives of different types of people in the organisation. This will help with candidates understanding the diverse range of employees and how the business caters to this. This can go onto the company’s “culture” website pages for helping potential employees understand how they could fit into the business.
Networks can also support the D&I strategy in terms of winning awards and gaining publicity which may increase the attractiveness of a brand to many candidates. Examples of awards that can be won are: Opportunity Now (gold standard), National and Equality Standard, STOWALL, Race for Opportunity, Diversity Inc.
Attraction to the networks
The more people that are pulled in the more inclusive a network is and the more value it can add. But how can networks attract new members?
Networks are often given budgets to host events that they can arrange in order to attract as many people to the event and ultimately to the network. Getting speakers that will attract members is one method to do this. Hearing real life examples can also be powerful. Having senior managers come along to events is good for encouraging the networks to grow too. Sometimes not labelling the events as diversity events can get more people to come.
Communication within networks
Using internal channels such as the Intranet can be good for allowing communication between and within networks. Events for the networks allows face to face communication and people to get to know each other whilst showing the commitment from the business for networks. Online platforms such as Role Point are important to gain referrals into networks to help them grow and increase the engagement of members. Employees are now using technology all the time but can networks reach members / potential members on these platforms? This is such an important thing to do. Having something such as a Twitter feed to make the network more accessible may encourage people to join / increase awareness of what the networks are doing. This also helps with both employer and customer branding as well as inclusiveness for the network.
Collaboration between the networks
The whole point of employee networks is to make employees feel included in something and well represented. Therefore networks should not feel like exclusive “members only clubs”. Some organisations even state that you do not need membership to be part of a network, however this can make it slightly harder to track the popularity and effectiveness of the networks. Networks should not be stand alone, instead they should all collaborate with each other, sharing journeys and learnings on how to understand and tackle different issues in order to improve the effectiveness and success of all networks.
- Getting business / senior management buy in – networks only tend to gain momentum because senior stakeholders get involved but do they see enough worth in the networks? If the CEO holds senior managers to account for their diversity and inclusion performance they are far more likely to get involved. Some companies even tie compensation for senior managers to diversity / gender split – this helps demonstrate the value the company holds for diversity
- Having truly inclusive networks rather than “members only groups”
- Are the longer term employees diverse enough to attract a larger group of diverse candidates? Often the D&I agenda did not even exist when these employees were hired
- Changing the internal perception – communicating the value of networks and the D&I agenda so all members of the business believe in it
- Competing with other companies when some diverse groups such as female directors are in such high demand to help with diversity numbers.
Data is crucial to gain insights on the value and popularity of networks but are companies using this or simply setting up networks because “everyone else has them”? It was clear that businesses are currently struggling to measure the impact of D&I networks and have few KPIs to measure against them. Some of the metrics that are currently being used are listed below:
- Culture – survey employees, how would they rate the company in terms of inclusiveness?
- Is it personal experiences that should be measured? Letting the senior management hear personal stories of how diversity and inclusion has helped employees
- Measure cost savings from networks attracting new employees compared to recruiters and marketing having to do this job
- Measuring possible reductions in litigation issues
- Another way to look at it is if you stop doing what you’re doing what would happen? What would the cost be?
- Retention – comparing non members’ and members’ retention statistics
- Engagement through surveying members vs non members
- Client loss due to them not being satisfied with the diversity and inclusion policy
- Do companies have the technology to track the diversity of their organisation? Clear group are a company that help with tracking applicants
- Measuring new recruits on their opinion of how important diversity was to them applying – are they looking for companies to have won certain awards or how are they discovering how good a company is with their diversity?