5 tips to build inclusive and supportive networks in the workplace

Inclusive and supportive networks

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace are really important. There are plenty of benefits that can come from a diverse and inclusive workplace, for example, higher levels of employee wellbeing, and as a result, retaining employees for longer. It is the responsibility of an employer to make sure that their organisation has diversity and inclusion at its core. But, there are everyday things that employees of the organisation can do too, to foster that inclusive culture. One such thing is setting up inclusive and supportive networks. In today’s blog post, we’ll be taking you through what these networks are, the benefits of them, as well as five top tips for building them in your own workplace. Having these networks is not a new thing, but it’s something that more and more employees and organisations are starting to see the joys of. Whatever your organisation may do, or whatever sector it may be in, we are sure that these networks can bring you many benefits! So, without further ado, let’s get into it…

What are inclusive and supportive networks?

In essence, they are groups that are set up by employees, for employees. The organisation should support and assist them, but the very idea is that they are not run by it. These groups allow employees to get together and support each other, building up a sense of community in the workplace. But why are they so vital for diversity inclusion in the workplace? Well, often these groups are aimed at a specific sector of employees, such as women, LGBTQ+, or BAME people, although they will be open to anyone supportive to join if they wish! As a result, these people and their allies can support each other, promote diversity in an organisation, help open up communication about potentially difficult topics, generally help to improve their workplace, and much, much more. But perhaps most importantly, inclusive and supportive networks provide a safe space for those who may want to discuss issues in the workplace relating to their diverse characteristics or have a platform of support to raise these issues with their employer. Providing people, whether they are part of a minority group or not, with a platform to talk about issues pertaining to diversity and inclusion is so important, as it can really help to advance the conversation. Next, let’s look at a few more of the benefits of these groups…

The benefits

Ultimately, the major benefit of inclusive and supportive networks is that they help people to feel included and supported at work! Everyone deserves to have a positive working environment, no matter what their race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic may be. However, this is unfortunately not the case for many people. For example, did you know that, according to Stonewall, more than one-third of LGBTQ+ people have hidden that fact that they are LGBTQ+ at work, for fear of discrimination? This suggests that, while we have come a long way with diversity and inclusion at work, there is still a long way to go before everyone feels free to be who they are and bring their whole selves to work. These inclusive networks can help them to feel more comfortable at work, and find people who will support them for who they are, no matter who that might be. 

So, it is clear that there are plenty of benefits of inclusive and supportive networks for employees, but what about the employing organisation, are there any benefits for them? The answer is, yes, definitely! While these groups are not run by the organisation, they are not just out for themselves. They can also aid the organisation in many ways. Firstly, having these groups is a sure sign that an organisation is happily diverse and inclusive, or at least working towards this. Organisations that make diversity and inclusion a priority, and give employees the space to support each other in this way, are very attractive to talent looking for a new job. So, having these groups in an organisation can help it to attract the best talent going forward! Furthermore, feeling accepted at work does wonders for employee satisfaction, which can lead to better rates of talent retention, which in turn leads to saved costs for the employer. So, if an employer openly supports the existence of these networks, there are several benefits in store for them too, which can’t be ignored!

Workplace networks

5 tips to build inclusive and supportive networks

Now we have looked at what these networks and groups are, and the benefits of them, let’s take a closer look at how employees can work together to build them, with these five top tips! You don’t have to be part of a minority group to set up these networks. They really are for everyone, as that is the whole point of diversity and inclusion! At This Is Us Conference 2020, we heard from James Sutton, a marketing professional who set up his own group for LGBTQ+ people and their allies at Oxfam. He raised many important points, which helped this article to come together, so we would like to thank James for sharing his insight before we begin. If you’re feeling inspired, why not give it a go yourself, as you never know where it might lead you? 

Don’t be afraid to speak out

If you want to build an inclusive and supportive network, there is probably an underlying reason. It could be that there just isn’t one in your organisation yet and you would like to take part. Or, there could be an issue with diversity and inclusion in your workplace and you would like to do something about it. However you are feeling, there are sure to be other colleagues out there who feel the same way. So, don’t be afraid to speak out! Get talking to those around you about your idea and see what they think. Many are likely to be on board and excited about the prospect. They may even want to help you build it. It’s also a good idea to speak to your colleagues to find out what they would want out of a network like the one you are building. This will help you to shape your network towards what people in the organisation want, and what they think would be most helpful or supportive for them.

Get HR involved

Now, we have already mentioned that the point of inclusive and supportive networks is that they are run by the employees, for the employees, and not by the employer. Having said this, it is important to get HR involved in some way, for a number of reasons. Firstly, they will be able to assign an HR representative to you, who will be able to act as an ally to your network and help with any personnel-related questions or issues that you may not be able to, or should not, answer or deal with on your own. Secondly, it is also a safeguarding issue. When inclusive and supportive groups are started, there tends to be an increase in reports of harassment in the workplace, because the groups can give people the confidence to speak out. So, it is a good idea to let HR know about your new network so that they can be prepared for this. Furthermore, the purpose of these groups is to be supportive. As a result, some sensitive issues may be raised by people in the groups that may need HR support to work through. 

Get others on board as soon as you can

When it comes to inclusive and supportive networks, gathering support in your organisation is key. And, it’s important to get the support and interest of those at board-level or senior management if you can. Most people in these positions will be more than happy to lend their support to your network once they know the benefits it can have for everyone. After all, these networks, and having a diverse and inclusive organisation in general, will benefit them, too. So, try and get their support as early on as you can. Once you have senior managers on board, everyone else in the organisation will see what a worthwhile thing your network is. And, it may be easier for you to get monetary funding from your organisation. This is because the senior managers could act as your sponsor and push forward your case for funding far more quickly than it could happen without their sponsorship and support. 

Ask for support

It can be tough, setting up diverse and inclusive networks. You don’t need to do it alone. So, don’t be afraid to reach out for support in whatever way you need it. This could be monetary support from your organisation to help your network grow and meet more people. Or, it could be support from your network’s members to help spread the message and get more people on board. Perhaps most importantly, make sure you have a support plan in place for yourself, where your organisation is there for you to provide the tools you need when things get tough. As we mentioned before, the point of these networks is to provide a safe space. As a result, employees may be comfortable to bring up difficult topics and issues. It is important that you do not attempt to deal with these on your own, and that you have the organisation’s support to deal with them if needed.

Support

Increase your membership!

Once you have your network in place, perhaps the final stage in building it up is to recruit as much support and membership as you can. After all, the larger the network is, the more power it has to create an impact when it comes to diversity and inclusion. This impact can take many forms and will be unique to each network. It could make an impact by offering support and a safe space for employees, or simply by making the organisation a more diverse and inclusive place to be. Whatever your aims and objectives are, you need members to make it happen! So, talk to as many people as you can about your network and the benefits, and make sure you promote it however you can. This could be through emails, special events, inviting people in to give talks, creating a branded presence throughout the organisation, the list is endless. This is your opportunity to get creative and come up with innovative ways to market your network that will help you get the support you need to build and grow. 

We hope that these tips have helped you understand what inclusive and supportive networks are, and given you some ideas and tips for building your own. While it may seem like a small drop in the ocean, these networks really can go a long way to helping others feel more included at work. We must all work together to make diversity and inclusion a business basic, and these networks and groups are one great way to do that.