Photo : Inclusive Networks Founder Thomas Anderson with his copy of our #ThisIsMe magazine

It’s been a while since I published a blog post, and with the first month of a new year drawing to a close I thought it was a good time to share some things I’ve recently been thinking about, as well as a few exciting Inclusive Networks updates.

2016 was a mixed year for me personally and professionally. There was lots of light, and a bit of shade too. I’m not going to give much time to negatives, but in an era when we see the best of everyone, and often heavily edited or exaggerated, on social media I think it’s important to cover this for balance. My life isn’t perfect, far from it. But whose really is?

When I had the idea to launch Inclusive Networks when I was still working for The Co-operative Group, and was Chair of their LGBT+ network group Respect, my path was clear and my vision of what I wanted Inclusive Networks to be was shining bright in my head. It would be a not-for-profit platform to celebrate and promote diversity network groups of all diversity strands – something that is very much needed, with the work of most networks and those who dedicate lots of their valuable personal time to coordinating them being very much under the radar and often going unrecognised. We’d do this with authenticity and with integrity.

“I’m not going to give much time to negatives, but in an era when we see the best of everyone, and often heavily edited or exaggerated, on social media I think it’s important to cover this for balance.”

Our first year, 2015, was a big success. We celebrated the work of network groups all over the UK, including networks representing Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service, Cardiff University and John Lewis Partnership…and many more. We recognised the fantastic work of 100 network groups with our inaugural Awesome Networks… interviewed prominent MPs and business leaders about the value of network groups, brought networks together to learn from each other…shared lots of role model features…and arranged the UK’s first awards event dedicated to network groups, our Inclusive Networks Awards – sponsors included PayPal, EY, Action for Children and Fujitsu. I was also proud that we were able to donate £1,000 to support the work of anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label. We even got a good luck shout out from Stephen Fry on Twitter. It was a fun year, and a positive start.

Photo : Lots of smiles – Our 2015 Inclusive Networks Awards

Helping network groups develop, gain more internal and external engagement (and recognition), and seeing how much being recognised at our awards, or being featured on our website, supported them in lots of ways is something that really drives me. It always makes my day and gives me a real buzz.

2016 was going to top 2015. And it did it lots of ways. Having moved to Edinburgh from Manchester at the end of 2015 I was going to focus my energy on increasing engagement with Inclusive Networks in Scotland in 2016.

By the end of the year Inclusive Networks had hosted/co-hosted five very different, and successful, events (attended by over 500 people) and worked with some great organisations and brands, including Stonewall Scotland, Vita CoCo, Kiehl’s and Crabbie’s. I also arranged Edinburgh’s vigil to remember the victims of the Orlando shooting, bringing over 2,500 people from all walks of life together – including a speech from Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. I also made a dream of mine a reality and I published my own magazine, #ThisIsMe, with the support of some friends I’d met during the year – thanks Luciano and Mark. Our website and social media continued to grow…ending the year with almost 26,000 organic followers across our accounts. Inclusive Networks was also shortlisted for the ‘Charity/Community Initiative of the Year’ award at the British LGBT Awards – a proud moment for me. Quite a year…but something was missing. We’d lost our identity.

“It’s ok to say no (note to self) and they do say
comparison is the thief of joy.”

Despite the achievements, I began to lose energy and enthusiasm for what I was doing, for various reasons…and I was losing sight of what it was I actually founded Inclusive Networks to do, distracted by and comparing myself to what others were doing, and saying ‘yes’ to things that weren’t particularly aligned to our strategy. It’s ok to say no (note to self) and they do say comparison is the thief of joy.

Amongst the noise, I’d temporarily forgotten what it was that gave me the drive to take the risks of going it alone in the first place and working with no salary or the benefits you get when you’re employed by someone else (holiday pay, pension contribution, sick pay etc…). When you work alone, Inclusive Networks is just me, it’s often all too easy to be in this position, especially when you move to a new area where you don’t know too many people and you’re suddenly in a position with a limited support network. This can be fixed though.

Photo : Readers of issue1 of our #ThisIsMe magazine, along with some behind the scenes cover shots

Before I knew it the year had ended and Inclusive Networks was on the wrong path (according to my own vision). But like lots of things in life, it was in my hands to change this, and I have the passion, vision and abilities to do this.

I’m thankful to every person and organisation that has supported Inclusive Networks and me to date. Without this support what we have achieved to date wouldn’t have been possible. When you’re still building a business and brand, and proving yourself, lots of entrepreneurs will tell you how so many emails or calls they make about working together, support and building relationships go unanswered. This is something I can relate to so thank you to everyone who taken the time to respond, even if it is a ‘can’t do at the moment’. I’ll be back in touch soon.

Celebrating and promoting diversity network groups, role models and inclusive employers is what Inclusive Networks is all about. We didn’t do this enough last year. 2017 is a new year and we’re very much going back to where it all started. We’ll be doing this in bigger and bolder ways…and in our own way too.

“Celebrating and promoting diversity network groups, role models and inclusive employers is what Inclusive Networks is all about.”

If you’ve had a look around our website you may have spotted some new features, such as our Diversity Calendar and Network Group pages. These are being developed and there is lots more to come, including our new resources pages, events calendar and special features linked to key diversity awareness days such as LGBT History Month and Black History Month. In March we’ll be publishing 31 original interviews with role models from every spectrum of society to celebrate Women’s History Month – pretty ambitious.

After a break in 2016, our Inclusive Networks Awards and Awesome Network initiative will be returning later this year, as will our new Network Group Twitter Chat. So many new networks launched in 2016, and lots of existing networks did awesome things so there is plenty to celebrate. We’ll be opening nominations once the nomination period for our #ThisIsMe Awesome100 awards closes. Issue2 of our #ThisIsMe magazine will be published in the spring – focussed on celebrating diversity network groups.

You’re invited to share your awesome workplace, network group, charity and community group updates and news, be one of our role model features, share your awesome events…and more with our website and #ThisIsMe magazine readers and 26,000+ social media followers and e-newsletter subscribers. Get in touch!

I’m always interested to hear from organisations, network groups, brands and events that share the same values as us about interesting collaborations, hosting our events and affiliations. By working together, we can all achieve more and have an even more positive impact in every area of our lives. I don’t think this has ever been more important than it is now.

KEEP CONNECTED WITH THOMAS :

Any support you offer for our original, authentic, much needed and high quality initiatives helps keep Inclusive Networks going and supports our development and growth. Like most start-ups, we really need a leg up to take us to the next level. Any support is always valued and appreciated – and the benefits received in return are rather awesome too. You can contact us here!