Top tips for getting maximum benefit from Employee Networks

Many businesses support employees to set up employee networks.

While the name may vary (diversity network groups, employee resource groups etc), the purpose is typically to foster inclusion in the workplace. The networks provide a forum for cohorts of employees who share a common interest or challenge at work.

The most common themes are Women in the Workplace and LGBTA but there are also carers’ groups, people with disability, Next Gen (millennials and generation Z),  working parents, cultural and multi-ethnic groups etc.

Some businesses organise these formally, appointing a chairperson to lead the initiative. Others are open to employees self-organising and provide some organisational support.

The most common focus of these groups is arranging networking events internally and externally (e.g. participation in Pride marches), marking relevant days on the CSR calendar (e.g. International Women’s day) and participating in diversity days/weeks.

Best practice tips

While employee engagement and a sense of inclusion in the workplace are important outcomes, it is possible to derive greater value for the business and for the employees from these network groups.

  1. Consider how these network groups can support:
  • recruitment and retention
  • marketing
  • brand enhancement
  • training
  • employee development
  • change initiatives

Commitment to an inclusive workplace is shown through actions that foster diversity of thinking throughout the business, bringing the widest range of thought processes to bear on a company’s operational challenges and future strategies. Employee network groups are a resource that is often overlooked in this regard.

Examples of how network groups are used include:

  1. Influencing policies and benefits e.g. carers’ leave, transgender policies
  2. As a sounding board for a company’s stance on controversial political agendas
  3. To provide diverse input to business challenges

 

  1. To advance the role of your employee networks
  • Shift the dialogue about them being a social group or purely for networking and focus on adding value to the organisation
  • Support the group to develop their value proposition and to articulate their business impact
  • Provide visible support from senior leadership and recognition of the value and influence they are having on the business (this has the added benefit of helping senior leaders to hone their skills as inclusive leaders)

Diversity is not or should not be merely a numbers game. By engaging with groups that exemplify the diversity of the organisation, a business is supporting the development of a diverse pipeline of talent  and providing people who do not usually have a voice with an opportunity to engage more visibly in the organisation.

In summary, effective employee network groups have four qualities:

  1. strong commitment from senior leaders
  2. a firm business strategy linked to organisational benefits
  3. regular metrics to measure progress
  4. an inclusive mission that creates dialogue with other employees and consumers

This piece was written by our Senior CSR Adviser Elaine Stephen .

Business in the Community Ireland can work with your leadership team and employee networks to explore opportunities to enhance their impact on the business. 

 

 

 

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