Stonewall : Understanding Network Groups
Alex Gwynne, Client Account Manager at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) charity Stonewall, talks the value of network groups and how they continue to develop.
The importance of network groups
As one of Stonewall’s Client Account Managers, I work with a number of organisations that each have their own network groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans staff.
From conversations that I have with these organisations (often with Diversity & Inclusion Managers or those in similar roles), it’s clear that the benefits of network groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) staff are not just for those individuals within the group but also for their colleagues and for the business in general.
Network groups tend to begin as spaces to provide peer-to-peer support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans staff. They provide a safe space for employees, including those who may not yet be ‘out’ as a member of the LGBT community.
As these groups begin to grow, however, the momentum they gain can allow them to play a vital role in business development and organisational influence.
The business of a network group
For example, whilst a network group does indeed enable (LGBT) staff to create a space to gain support from people they feel understand them within the organisation, they also form a ready-made focus group for the business in which they are a part of. Staff can turn to their network groups to collate information for example and to feedback on areas including policy, strategy or community engagement.
Almost all of the organisations in this year’s Stonewall Workplace Equality Index (WEI) Top 100 have a network group for their lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans staff, which is a real testament to the value that the organisations place upon them. Whilst we know that a network group can be led by just one passionate person, its success can be determined through business support and a wider understanding from senior management for why it’s so important.
For this support to be in place, it’s clear that diversity and inclusion is something that matters to the decision-makers of a business, and this is extremely reassuring for staff who identify with a protected characteristic.
“Understanding that people don’t just fit into one group is vital – not just so businesses grasp the complexities of their experiences but also to ensure they aren’t typecast in any way within the organisation.”
Visibility of Role Models
Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index is now broken into ten sections, which are each broken down into the areas of ‘foundations’, ‘next steps’ and ‘best practice’. This allows organisations to think more clearly about their specific internal targets.
One area of the index that is a bigger focus than ever before is role models within an organisation.
We know from speaking to employees, network groups and senior staff within organisations just how important visible role models are. This doesn’t just apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans role models – but also for role models to act as allies to LGBT colleagues and communities.
Allies are enormously important – and we’re finding more and more individuals who want to support their LGBT colleagues even if they don’t identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans themselves. Sometimes there can be a slight hesitance to do this, as people might not know where to start or may worry about hostility towards them, however this is why it’s so important to have visible allies within an organisation. Who can help tackle any potential discrimination in the workplace, ensure it’s as inclusive a place to work in as possible and to help others do the same thing too.
Understanding multiple identities
As well as role models, it’s important that businesses understand multiple identities amongst staff. This has also become a prominent part of the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index framework.
If one of your lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans members of staff also identifies as being of a racial minority, or as having a disability, their experiences also will differ to other members of your LGBT staff.
Understanding that people don’t just fit into one group is vital – not just so businesses grasp the complexities of their experiences but also to ensure they aren’t typecast in any way within the organisation. It’s integral to avoid looking at things as standalone, which prevents businesses to expand, and to look at the further issues which people who identify with more than one protected characteristic face.
Looking at the Workplace Equality Index this year we can already begin to see these patterns forming – for example, LGBT disabled staff feel less able to be themselves in the workplace than LGBT non-disabled staff. This trend is particularly pronounced amongst trans LGB staff.
“Network groups tend to begin as spaces to provide peer-to-peer support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans staff. They provide a safe space for employees, including those who may not yet be ‘out’ as a member of the LGBT community.”
At Stonewall we know people perform better when they can be themselves. LGBT network groups not only allow this through connecting people with those who understand similar experiences, but also through the emphasis of support from the business for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans members of staff by supporting it from the beginning.
Photo: Alex Gwynne, Client Account Manager (Workplace) at Stonewall (right) and Thomas Anderson, Inclusive Networks Founder & Director (left)