Jonathan Andrews talks network groups
Jonathan Andrews is a Future Trainee at Reed Smith and is heavily involved in networks to raise awareness of autism. He sits on Parliament’s Autism Commission and the Law Society’s Equality Board. He has also co-founded the London Bisexual Network, launching later this year. Employee network groups are an invaluable resource to many employers all over the UK, supporting more inclusive workplaces. Jonathan lets us know more about his own personal network group experiences and the value of staff networks.
What role do you think employee network groups play in the workplace?
They make people feel accepted, and that someone from their background will be able to achieve at the firm – which is proven to improve wellbeing and productivity. They provide people from those groups with the chance to meet up and discuss issues which might otherwise get overlooked, but are very personal to them – and to do so in an environment where their views and experiences are valued. They can also be great for boosting the business profile of the firm and facilitating networking between the firm and clients/potential clients. And they demonstrate to applicants that the firm takes diversity seriously, and is a welcoming place for them.
Have you been involved in any workplace network group initiatives?
I’m very involved in Reed Smith’s Disability Task Force and have spoken publicly at various events, both at Reed Smith and with networks like LGBT Leaders and Interlaw. I’ve really liked the focus on diversity all had, especially the effort to include people from inter-sectional backgrounds.
It was great to be able to discuss autism, especially since there was no discussion of it beforehand. It definitely shows how keen the networks are to discuss new, innovative things – almost as soon as I got a training contract, I was being asked onto panels to discuss it.
“If an organisation has a culture where everyone, whatever their background, can feel supported and welcome, talented people from diverse groups will naturally be more keen to apply to it.”
Do you think organisations who have visible networks and support community initiatives have an advantage when trying to attract the best, and diverse, talent?
Undoubtedly. Talented people come from all groups, and those from diverse groups often have special talents – such as coping strategies honed young when managing a disability – which employers should seek out. If an organisation has a culture where everyone, whatever their background, can feel supported and welcome, talented people from diverse groups will naturally be more keen to apply to it.
Certainly when I was applying to law firms I used to judge them on how much effort they put into networks and initiatives – if they didn’t see them as important, they weren’t somewhere I wanted to work for.
Employers need to realise more and more talented applicants are now viewing them like this, and that having more networks makes business sense as well as being a nice thing to do.
What about people who have multiple identities, and identify as being many things, i.e. disabled, female and bisexual…Do you think employers need to do more to not look at these characteristics alone when working to attract and retain talent, and develop their employee networks and increase employee engagement?
I think it’s important for employers to understand how these issues intersect, rather than splitting them out into ‘women’, ‘ethnic minorities’, etc. There are many similarities between groups – for example, I’m bisexual as well as autistic, and both are invisible differences, whereas gender and race are often (though not always) visible – and I think employers should think about holding more events focused on this, e.g. by holding joint LGBT network and Disability network events.
I also think discussion around diversity can too often be reduced to labels – it’s important to remember the individuals behind the labels too, and events which aren’t rigid for one group or another help this. I’m a big believer in promotion of diversity of thought too – there’s little point increasing representation of one group if everyone you hire thinks the same, and a lot of the business case for diversity comes from people with different opinions challenging established practice and ‘groupthink’.
The London Bisexual Network launches in November 2016. Find out more about the network at londonbisexualnetwork.co.uk